Exploring the root causes of poor mental health in secondary school girls

Many young girls experience poor mental health during middle school. Many people focus on helping each individual, but a Ph.D. student Janne Lund wants us to look at the bigger picture. Because what is it about middle school that leads to poor mental health among girls?

There are many factors that affect how we feel. But the challenge today is that mental health issues come down to how each individual feels. If we want to understand why so many young girls have mental health problems, we need to look at the bigger picture and the underlying factors behind it.”

Janne Lund, Ph.D. a student

Self-reported mental health problems have increased among young people, and especially girls, for several years. Lund is now a teaching assistant, but has worked as a junior high school social teacher.

“The increase reported in the Ungdata survey is consistent with what I have seen at work. Many young girls were stressed and depressed. But statistics only tell you the things you measure,” says Lund.

Ungdata surveys have been collecting national data on young people in Norway since 2010. The latest report shows that 17 percent of young people in Norway have been under so much pressure in the past week that they had trouble coping.

Income or Education?

An important determinant of young people’s mental health is how they live and grow up. Income and level of education of parents have long been used as measures of social conditions.
“We found that parents’ income influences young people’s mental health more than parents’ education. It is clear that young people notice if their family size is smaller, but this also means that the government can introduce specific measures. financially, it can significantly help with children’s mental health issues,” says Lund.

Low incomes often lead to other social inequalities, such as weaker social networks and fewer opportunities to improve their situation. But it’s not just young people from low-income families who struggle with mental health issues.

Ratings above all else

School stress, or challenges related to school achievement, accounts for a large part of the increase in mental health problems among young girls. For her doctoral dissertation, Lund interviewed 10 junior high school girls about their daily lives.

“Many of the girls mentioned stress in everyday life. It became very clear that school stress was present in their daily lives. There’s so much they have to do, and it’s a lot about tests and assignments and assessments,” says Lund.

Students were concerned about managing their time effectively and this was closely related to tests at school. There is a lot of cramming, and the girls interviewed by Lund cite tests and grades as key stressors.

“Grades are what matter. The mentality was that if you didn’t get the grade you wanted, it was because you didn’t spend enough of your free time cramming. This trampling only happens in their spare time,” says Lund.

Society values ​​achievement

GPA was also a common concern. Students explained that in order to advance, they had to improve their GPA from year to year. They didn’t talk about the fact that the grading requirements are increasing every year and they didn’t seem to take that into account.
Lund believes that this trend towards improvement is also being felt in society as a whole.

“The school is not an isolated island. It gets a lot of blame, but the pursuit of achievement and advancement characterizes much of society today. I think it gives the school an opportunity to offset that stress. Learning goals can be good, but what is often lost is curiosity, imagination and experimentation,” says Lund.

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