Interpersonal relationships at home, school and with peers appear to be critical for positive mental health among young Canadian teens, a major study suggests.
"We focused it on mental health for a reason," said John Freeman, director of the Social Program Evaluation Group at Queen's University and a study co-author. "Mental health is a large issue for Canada's young people right now. It's in our conversations ... it's in the news."
Freeman said that as obvious as it may seem, relationships with others are a key indicator as to whether a teen is mentally healthy.
The study, based on responses to questionnaires given to students during class time, examined how relationships with parents, teachers and peers reflect on mental health status.
"And we found consistently, no matter which group we looked at, even with neighbourhoods as well, that relationships mattered," Freeman said Wednesday from Kingston, Ont. "Those students who reported stronger relationships also reported better indices of mental health."
While adults often believe that teens' most critical relationships are with people in their own age group, Freeman said the study found that connections with adults also are important. For instance, adolescents who reported finding it "very difficult" or "difficult" to converse with their mother or father are far more likely to have high levels of emotional problems than those who find it "easy" or "very easy" to talk to their moms or dads. "And it's for both boys and girls, it's very consistent," Freeman explained.
When mental health issues do occur, the study found a gender difference in how they are expressed: girls report higher levels of emotional problems, while boys tend to experience more behavioural problems, such as skipping classes, stealing or getting into fights.
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