Among 15-year-old girls in Finland, 1 in 5 reported feeling low about their everyday life in 2022, finds new data from WHO/Europe’s collaborative Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health and well-being of children and adolescents worldwide. Several studies have reported adverse effects on their mental health, especially among those who received limited social support during the peak of
the pandemic or whose support system was already poor prior to the pandemic’s onset.
In autumn 2021, concerns were raised about Finnish adolescents’ mental health and well-being, particularly the increase in loneliness and depressive feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The HBSC study investigates these trends using survey
data from 2014, 2018 and 2022.
Girls’ mental health more affected than boys’
The study finds that especially girls’ mental health has continued to deteriorate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2022, a significant number of girls reported feeling low, with 17–19% of 13- and 15-year-old girls reporting feeling down every day – an increase of 7–9 percentage points compared to 2018. However, for 15-year-olds, the pandemic
only exacerbated the negative trend that was already present prior to 2018.
“I am worried about 15-year-old girls, who seem to be facing a multitude of mental health challenges such as loneliness, morning fatigue and feeling low, among others. More than 1 in 4 reported experiencing loneliness always or often,”
says Nelli Lyyra, Senior Lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä.
Nelli adds, “Though loneliness did not increase significantly during the pandemic, it was more closely linked to other mental health problems in 2022 than earlier. Lonely adolescents seem to be more vulnerable to the negative mental health impacts
of the pandemic.”
The mental health of boys, on the other hand, seems to have improved over the years. While 1–8% of 11-, 13- and 15-year-old boys reported feeling low about every day, and 3–10% reported feeling lonely always or often, boys aged 11 and
15 felt less lonely in 2022 than in 2018. The study also finds that 13- and 15-year-old boys were more confident about their future than girls (58% versus 44%).
“We assumed there would be a decline in how hopeful adolescents are about their future, but surprisingly, the proportion of 15-year-old boys who often saw their future as hopeful was 10% higher in 2022 than in 2018,” shares Kristiina Ojala,
Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä. Boys also felt their health was excellent or good more often than girls.
Leena Paakkari, Associate Professor at the University of Jyväskylä, explains, “Our results revealed gender inequalities in well-being. There is a need to strengthen gender-sensitive recommendations, policies and practices in crisis
response and recovery efforts. We need an increased understanding of the health resources that have the potential to decrease the disparities among gender groups. It would be equally important to understand the mechanisms that explain positive
health trends among boys.”
Young people with limited support are vulnerable
In 2022, those young people who received support from their families, friends and/or teachers reported better self-rated health and lower rates of frequent loneliness and feeling low.
As we build more resilient societies, the role of social support in various settings, such as schools, in helping manage the negative impacts of health crises should be considered.
“Schools have an important role as health-promoting settings not only during the pandemic but also now when societies try to recover different losses in adolescents’ well-being, such as health and learning,” says Leena.
About the HBSC survey
The HBSC survey is a cross-national study of the health and well-being of adolescents across Europe and Canada, conducted in close collaboration with WHO/Europe. The survey is undertaken every 4 years for 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds.
The survey in Finland was part of a series of national surveys conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in countries across the Region, the results of which WHO/Europe will release over the next months.