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The results are in – one of Australia’s best indicators of youth mental health, the 2021 MyStrengths Youth Wellbeing Report, has revealed the most common causes of stress and worry amongst teenagers.

“Some of the findings affirm our suspicion around sleep habits and the direct impact on mental health, and the causes of stress and worry,” says MyStrengths founder Dan Hardie. “However, other findings have come as a surprise, particularly around those who teenagers turn to for support, and the way they view the impact of social media on their own lives.”

The report surveyed nearly 10,000 high school students aged 11 to 18 to identify and address the mental health concerns facing teenagers. The report found schoolwork was the number one cause of stress and worry, with causes of stress including feeling anxious about what might happen, self-esteem, friend problems and family difficulties, in that order. Teens’ biggest worries revolved around their future, the way they look, what people think or say about them and missing out on their goals, with females reporting higher levels of stress than males.

But perhaps most interesting was the link the report uncovered between sleep and mental health.

“It isn’t a surprise that the amount of sleep a teen gets has an impact on their day-to-day resilience, but what might come as a surprise is the difference that just one hour of sleep makes,” says Dan. “Of the students surveyed, 40 percent who go to bed later than 11 pm reported experiencing challenges, compared to 22 percent of people who go to bed at 10 pm or earlier.”

Screen time was found to be the most common activity before bed, with 65 percent of young people interacting with screens – either TV, video games or social media – in the hour before they go to bed.

“Contrary to how adults view the impact of social media, young people believe it to be of benefit to their lives,” says Dan. “Students see social media as a tool for connection and value its role in enhancing their relationships with others. A higher proportion of young people feel that social media has helped improve their self-esteem than damaging it, and the 49 percent of students who are on social media daily will be more likely turn to a friend their age for support, compared to the 34 percent who use it weekly or less.”

One of the most profound findings of the MyStrength report was that while young people are able to recognise the causes of their stress and worries, many don’t seek professional help – or help at all.

“Alarmingly, one in three students do not talk to anyone when they are struggling,” says Dan. “For those teens who do reach out to others about their problems, it’s more likely that they would reach out to a friend than a parent.”

MyStrengths found that only three percent of students seek support from their teachers at school, too. On a more positive note, 62 percent said they feel understood by their parents – but interestingly, roughly percent of those teenagers are more likely to talk to their mum, with only 17 percent of females and 29 percent of males likely to turn to their dads when feeling worried or down.

The report was released ahead of the launch of MyStrengths’ Raising Resilience course, a 10-step program designed to turn the tide on teen mental health. It launched nationwide on October 1 to coincide with the start of Mental Health Month, and includes short engaging videos and daily challenges for parents to watch with their teens. 

“So many students have been given negative labels – slow, a nerd, bossy, too loud, too quiet, crazy, or perhaps even weird,” says Dan. “Those labels are like a lens through which they view themselves, and our natural negativity bias tends to make them stick. 

“We’ve spent six years working with over 30,000 students in high schools, and it’s become clear to us that most teenagers know their weaknesses, but very few know their strengths. Their identity, self-worth and confidence are being damaged, and we wanted to remove the negative lens and give them a new set of lenses to view themselves and their world.”

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