Adolescence is a relatively healthy time in life with low levels of morbidity and mortality. Yet adolescence is also the typical age for the onset of a range of mental disorders, which for some can have lifelong implications. In light of this, promoting positive health and well-being in adolescents is of high importance. The Irish case study presents the mental well-being status of Irish adolescents, determinants of mental well-being, the Irish policy framework and a description of an intervention initiative that aimed to improve adolescents’ emotional well-being.
There is limited information about Irish adolescents’ mental health status and the determinants associated with mental disorders. Data on well-being, positive health and resilient factors are, however, available. Based on data collected as part of the Irish 2006 HBSC survey, 76.6% of Irish children report high life satisfaction, 52.8% report they always or very often feel happy with the way they are, and 49.7% report that they are very happy with their life at present. Only 33.3%, however, report that they enjoy excellent health. The following complaints were reported as being experienced at least once a month: headaches (52%); stomach ache (45.9%); backache (34.2%); feeling low (48.4%); feeling nervous (57.3%); experiencing sleeping difficulties (44.3%); and feeling dizzy (30.1%).
Findings from the Irish 2002 HBSC survey suggest that poor mental health (feeling unhappy, reported low life satisfaction, frequent physical and emotional symptoms) is associated with food poverty, while other studies suggest that good communication with older siblings and peers, and especially parents, predict high life satisfaction, happiness and infrequent psychosomatic symptoms. Findings also suggest that more sources of support in social settings predict better mental well-being. Additional analyses indicate that positive perceptions of school and local area are also strong predictors of positive health.
The social climate in Ireland is undergoing change: the GDP has tripled over the last ten years; the number of older people has increased, changing the overall age structure of society; and the number of lone-parent families has increased and more women participate in the labour force, suggesting a possible shift in family structures. Despite economic growth, recent data illustrate that 34.4% of people in consistent poverty are children and that members of lone-parent households make up almost 15% of people in consistent poverty, despite representing less than 4% of the population. This changing climate may pose a threat for mental well-being which, in part, has provided the impetus to put mental health promotion at the forefront of policy issues. A number of policy documents set out recommendations on promoting positive mental health. Findings from HBSC surveys have been used by government bodies and nongovernmental agencies to advance and assist in the development of national social and health-related policies and have also been used as a resource for policy-makers.
An all-Ireland cross-border mental health promotion initiative, the “Getting it together” project, is described in detail in this case study. The project was carried out under the auspices of Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT), a cross-border body in Ireland that aims to improve the health and social well-being of their resident populations (1). The initiative targeted adolescents and young adults in Ireland and Northern Ireland and was designed to build participants’ understanding of emotional well-being and facilitate the development of a youth-friendly, needs-led resource. The resource materials include posters, flashcards and leaflets, which are intended for use by trained peer leaders.
The participants reported an increase in confidence and improved coping, communication and facilitation skills. Positive effects on emotional and mental well-being were reported by the young people involved and by the advisory group. Opportunities for young people to pilot the resource with their peers and to support other young people to use or deliver it were identified. A comprehensive evaluation of the project was undertaken, which included examining the process of development of the resource, the impact on the participating young people and the extent to which the project achieved its aims and objectives.
This report is a compilation of background papers and case studies presented by partners taking part in the WHO/HBSC Forum 2007 process. It does not necessarily represent the views of the process coorganizers or other participants at the WHO/ HBSC Forum 2007 event (5−6 October in Viareggio, Tuscany Region, Italy) or the case study review meeting on 30−31 March 2007 in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.