social sciences

Mental Well-Being of Adolescence Needs Much More Attention


According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people commit suicide each year. It is estimated that for each suicide, there are likely to have been more than 20 suicide attempts. Also, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds, after road traffic accidents. According to the OECD, there is one of the world’s highest suicides rates in Estonia among this age group.

One of the most significant suicidial risk factor is depression. It is also associated to hopelessness. Lauraliisa Mark (PhD) recently defended her doctoral thesis about the prevalence of depressive feelings, suicidal ideation and risk behaviours among Estonian adolescents. She analysed the associations between depressive feelings-suicidial ideation and early sexual intercourse, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical fighting, bullying, the presence of multiple risks and communication difficulties with parents.

“When we get to know the association between depressive feelings, suicidal ideation and risk behaviour, it can help us to recognize and help young people who are in trouble and in this way prevent suicides,“ Mark explained.

Relationship with Mother

All the risk behaviours analysed in the dissertation (early sexual intercourse, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical fighting, bullying) were related to bigger chances to experience suicidal ideation and depressive feelings. “For example, the odds of suicidal ideation were 8 times higher for girls who had lost their virginity at 13 or younger, and more than 4 times higher for boys who had lost their virginity at the same age. In addition, the younger a student was when they lost their virginity, the more intense was the reported risk behaviour and the more often they reported poor self-assessed health and having considered suicide,“ Mark mentioned.

Simultaneous occurrence of several risk factors greatly increased suicidal ideation among 15-years-old students, and up to ten times for four or five simultaneous occurrence factors. What is more, one of the most important indicators of adolescents lacking well-being was a difficulty to talk with their mother, as this increased suicidal ideation by 5 times.

Mark said that analysing bullying experience showed that both the role of the bully and the victim are connected with seriously disturbed mental well-being – hopelessness towards the future and poor mental well-being based on the WHO-5 score. “Boys were most vulnerable in the role of victim, and girls both in the roles of bully and victim. The most devastating method of bullying was cyber bullying,“ she explained.

A Lot of Work to Do

Mark noted that although risk behaviour is considered as a normal part of adolescence, it has to be seen as a warning sign of lacking mental well-being. “It means that parents and specialists who work with adolescents should pay attention to risk behaviour and should know that a young person who is behaving in a risky way may need help”, she brought outemphasized, and added that,raising awareness is certainly crucial among these people.

To avoid more serious consequences, Mark considers that it would be expedient to screen the mental health problems in school. “While working out the test, it is important to notice that the questions for boys and girls should be a bit different in terms of emotional load”, she said.

What is more, the results proved to Mark that school bullying needs a consistent approach because it affects the mental well-being of adolescents. “There is a need for an evidence-based method that would be targeted to all children, no matter their role”, she noted, and added that some methods which could help to improve relationships with parents would be also essential because good relations with both peers and parents protect mental well-being.

Therefore, Mark concluded that, as mental well-being in determined by so many different components, every action for positive development has potential to raise the resilience in adolescents.

Written by Marii Kangur

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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