Young less certain of where to seek help as they become older, reveals survey


Young people grow less certain about where to seek help for their problems the older they get, according to a new survey.

Some 63 per cent of 10 to 12-year-old respondents said they “definitely” knew where to turn to if they needed support but this fell to 55 per cent in the 13 to 15-year bracket and 44 per cent in the 16-plus age group.

More than 14,000 children were questioned for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children study, which the charity is due to publish later this month.

The report cites a “dearth of support services for the 16-plus age group” and suggests this is a factor in the greater feeling of isolation among older teens.

However, ISPCC services manager Tess Noonan said another factor was that “issues can become a bit more complex as you get older. They may be dealing with things like sexual health, relationships or emerging sexuality.”

What was clear, she added, was “younger children are more likely to go the family. Teens are much more likely to go to the peer group and also more likely to say there are less support services”.

The study showed most children were very positive about their lives. But a significant minority (20 per cent) said they felt “everything is difficult” either a lot or all of the time.

Girls were more likely to report feelings of sadness, fear and nervousness than boys. Some 33 per cent of males said they never felt sad, compared to 16 per cent of females.

The biggest issues for young people were family life and relationships with friends. Some 44 per cent said the former affected their feelings a lot, while 42 per cent said the latter did. Only 25 per cent said bullying affected their feelings a lot.

Stressing the importance of communication within families, the study found that 31 per cent of those who said they could not talk about their problems at home were unhappy “all the time” or “a lot”.

This dropped to 4 per cent among those who felt they could talk to family members.

Support structures

“If children and young people feel they can count on their friends and family they experience less feelings of nervousness and sadness,” concluded the report .

It noted similar findings were identified in a recent study of youth mental health in Ireland by UCD school of psychology and Headstrong. This report emphasised that the presence of “one good adult” was important to the emotional wellbeing of young people.

The ISPCC said the findings of its survey strengthen the need for “renewed action at local and national level” to improve family and community support structures.

Outside support services can make a “massive difference” in helping to repair broken lines of communication within families, said Ms Noonan. However, she noted waiting lists of up to a year in some parts of the State for such services.

“By the time some teenagers get through the waiting list they have already turned 18,” she said.

The report also notes that it can take considerable time to build up trust, and “if there is a huge turnover and a lot of change it’s hard for the professional to get to know the family”, added Ms Noonan.

Feelings of guilt

A further obstacle is getting children to avoid feelings of guilt for “burdening” others with their problems, states the report. “Comments about feeling ‘stupid, self-centred and worried’ highlight the hidden vulnerability of young people in reaching out to trust someone at a time in their life when perceptions of others really matter.”

Ahead of the budget, Ms Noonan said the impact of increased taxes and spending cuts on family life should not be overlooked.

“Whatever stress you are under, whether it is financial, mental health or relationship problems, that is going to impact on your parenting. Every cut or every impact on the family is just going to make things a little bit more difficult.”