On 29 March, Dr Ingrid Schoon delivered a lecture on ‘Adolescent Mental Health and the Transition to Adulthood’ to students at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.
Dr Ingrid Schoon
Dr Schoon is Prof. of Human Development and Social Policy at University College London, Institute of Education. She also has an appointment as Research Professor at the Social Science Centre Berlin and Visiting Professor at the Royal Netherlands Academy of the Arts and Science. We spoke to Dr Schoon before the lecture to learn more about her work and thoughts on mental health.
What are some of the reasons young people have mental health difficulties?
Generally, young people are considered to be healthy, but there are concerns regarding of mental health issues among adolescents. About one in ten young people aged 11 to 15 in the UK report having mental health problems. Moreover, there has been increase in depression among girls, with about one in four girls aged 14 reporting depressive symptoms. The teenage years are a critical period of life, when new demands are put on young people to grow up, become independent and make choices regarding further education, and their careers. Moreover, issues of how they should look, how they’re meant to behave and how to make friends are becoming more important. There are also new role expectations placed on young people who have to carve out their own identity, despite experiences of insecurities and uncertainty about things to come. In addition, the school environment is very stressful because they need to get good grades to get into certain schools. In some countries, such as Finland, ‘burnout’, which we mostly associate with adults at work, has been identified already in schools. Even students who do well in school and try hard show symptoms of burnout, as demands have continued to increase.
Is social media having an impact on young people’s mental health?
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon to what we have been used to for many years. Before we had traditional media where we were worried about how much television a child watches or how much time they spend with video games. Yet social media is more personalised. There are issues of online grooming or cyber bullying which can put young people under tremendous pressure without anyone really noticing. These pressures can come from people they don’t even know, who can pull strings, call them names and pressurise them just because of their online profiles. Maybe there is too little attention paid to these problems. Recently in the news we have seen many examples of how social media has been used to target and influence people. You can imagine that this form of influencing behaviour can affect children in many ways, having a negative impact on their mental health.
Why do you think mental health is gaining more exposure in the media?
I think there are many reasons but certainly there is more attention paid to mental health in schools. Before, schools put more focus on behavioural or conduct issues, as these are more externalised and easier to identify. But now schools are more aware of mental health issues. More reports are being published that show the trends, causes and effects of mental health, such as 14 year old girls being more susceptible to mental health problems than boys. Maybe there is now more openness to talk to about mental health issues and it is also easier to speak to people who might be dealing with similar problems. Mental health is also being spoken about more openly by high profile people in the media. In the UK, a lot of exposure has been generated by Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate’s ‘Heads Together’ Foundation, which aims to create more conversations around mental health.
What are the challenges around adolescent mental health?
Mental health is a very important aspect of developmental health and shapes your outcomes and pathways in education and occupation. If you don’t feel healthy, you will struggle to make a successful transition into the labour market. In turn, you will be less productive as an adult and will experience more problems in becoming an effective parent, causing a generational accumulation, a negative cycle. These days, there is a growing trend to diagnose and offer medical solutions to young people instead of psychological interventions. Even children as young as 3-5 years old are being given medication because they are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Perhaps medical and pharmaceutical industries have an interest in promoting a medicalised treatment, so it’s quite a complex issue.
What can education institutions do to support students with mental health issues?
Schools are not legally obliged to offer school-based counselling. However, many schools offer some form of psychological health and education support. Teachers are well placed to observe the day-to-day behaviour of their students, yet they are not professional psychologists. Thus it is important that qualified specialists are consulted to offer advice and support and to avoid unnecessary harm. Similar services in universities should be in place and there should be professional facilities available to support students. I don’t think the main solution should be medication, young people need support in finding solutions of how they can learn to cope, to deal with failure and learn that they have strengths as well as weaknesses. Schools, colleges and universities need to be places where children and young adults have a sense of belonging, where they have an identity and where they are not just expected to be the best in the class or better than the other students. Education institutions need to become supportive learning communities, which support those who are most vulnerable and provide a platform for all to reach their full potential.
To learn more about mental health support available at Queen Mary University of London, please visit our Advice and Counselling Service website.
If you are interested in studying Psychology at QMUL, learn about our undergraduate Psychology course.