Deteriorating mental health of Dutch youth, especially girls, a serious issue: Research
The mental health of teenagers in the Netherlands deteriorated in the past years. Girls in secondary education especially report more emotional-, behavioral, and concentration problems than five years earlier, according to a study by Utrecht University and the Trimbos Instituut among 4,800 school children between the ages of 12 and 16.
Boys in secondary education also reported more mental health problems in the autumn of 2022 than in 2017. But the increase in issues among girls in this age group is “worrying,’ the researchers said. Nearly half (47 percent) of girls report often being worried, anxious, and unhappy, compared to 29 percent in 2017. The score that girls give their lives dropped from 7.3 in 2017 to 6.7 last year. Among boys, it fell from 7.8 to 7.5 out of ten.
According to the researchers, the difference between boys and girls here may be that girls experience more stress from schoolwork. This type of stress was high among all school students last year. Girls in secondary education are also less optimistic about their relationships with their parents, friends, classmates, and teachers than in 2017.
Social developments like the war in Ukraine, climate change, and the energy crisis may also be impacting teenagers’ mental health, the researchers said.
Gonneke Stevens, professor of youth welfare at Utrecht University and the study's leader, didn’t expect vast improvements in young people’s mental health after the clear deterioration during the pandemic. But it is remarkable that not a single indicator improved compared to 2021. “The level of mental health problems in 2022 was still very high, especially among girls in secondary education.”
The researchers also noted a sharp increase in teenagers who used social media intensively last year. “We see this increase among boys and girls in primary and secondary education,” Stevens said. Especially the use of TikTok increased significantly.
The researchers stressed that, on average, intensive social media use is not associated with mental health problems. So this increase in social media use should not cause an increase in problems. But Stevens is still concerned. “In the longer term, an increase in intensive social media use can lead to an increase in problematic social media use for some young people, and thus to an increase in mental health problems.”