Fifth of school kids stressed over a sick family member

One in five high school pupils have a family member at home with a long term illness. These pupils are more likely to struggle with psychosomatic complaints like trouble sleeping, headaches, fatigue, and nervousness than their peers. They also feel more pressured by their school work and score less well on life satisfaction and perceived health, according to a study by Social and Cultural Planning office and the VU University Amsterdam.

17 percent of high school pupils in the Netherlands have one sick person in the family, usually a parent, but it can also be a sibling or other family member. 2 percent live with two or more sick family members. 

The majority of high school students in the Netherlands experience good or excellent health. But students with a sick family member are 1.5 times more likely to report their own health as poor or reasonable. They also give a lower score to their lives; a 7 out of ten, instead of an 8 like their peers.

A quarter of students with a sick family member report having difficulty falling asleep almost every night, a fifth suffer from fatigue, and one in six report feeling exhausted. They are also more likely to suffer from headaches and anxiety. Students worried about a sick family member at home experience relatively high school pressure - they often feel pressured by the school work they have to do. 

These kids also experience relatively little support from their families - they feel that the people in their families are doing less to help them. They also indicate they receive less support from classmates or feel that they are less often accepted by classmates as they are. 

These problems are more common among girls, older pupils, and pupils living in a single-parent household, with step-families, or households with low prosperity. 

Three quarters of students with sick family members say they have tasks and responsibilities within the family, like cooking, cleaning, helping a sibling with their homework, or caring for their sick family members. The same is true for two thirds of students without a sick family member. Students with sick family spend at least 4 hours a week on these tasks, 1.5 times more than their peers.

But the researchers found that the emotional pressure a sick family member can entail weighs more on students' quality of life than the extra tasks they have to perform. 

According to the SCP, sufficient support from home, friends, classmates and teachers can help improve the quality of life of these students.