Who asks for help? Who doesn't?

Who do you talk to when you are sad or stressed or in trouble? This was one of the areas investigated when NSW students were asked about their health in a report released recently.

When unhappy, sad or depressed in the past 6 months (which 60% of students ages 12-17 said they experienced), almost 40% did not speak about it with anyone at all (52% of boys, 27% of girls).

Girls were feeling down about twice as often as boys (52% vs. 27%). From these figures we notice right away that feeling down is very common, ranging from usual levels of unhappiness that we might consider part of the human condition, through to kids feeling it was so bad they almost could not take it (8% of the total sample of about 8000).

It’s also clear that girls are twice as likely to talk with someone compared to boys. Girls talked to friends most (53%), family (35%), teachers or school counsellors (7%), and doctors or other health professionals (4%). About 1% used a helpline or the Internet, though this proportion may have increased since 2011 with more use of computers, tablets and mobiles.

Boys who talked did so with friends (33%), family (24%), teachers or school counsellors (5%), and doctors or other health professionals (2%).

So while girls had mood problems twice as often as boys, they talked about it with people more easily than did the smaller group of affected boys who were more inclined to tell no one. A somewhat similar gendered pattern applied to kids experiencing nervousness, stress or pressure (which 70% had felt).

However, young people in trouble for behaviour followed a different pattern. Just over half the kids had been in trouble, evenly divided between the sexes. The proportion of teachers and school counsellors involved was 6-7% for both boys and girls.

One interpretation is that girls (and females generally) experience more depression and anxiety, and talk about it more, while boys’ (and men’s) bad behaviour is more noticeable and draws greater attention to the problems they might be having.

To oversimplify, girls ask for help directly, while boys ‘ask’ for help through their behaviour.

Some encouraging news: This survey has been done every 3 years, and between 1996 and 2011 the proportion of young people who were in trouble because of behaviour, (where the effect on them was ‘worse than usual’, ‘quite bad’ or ‘almost more than I could take’) significantly decreased from 27% to 19%.Is that encouraging? Maybe they are just less affected by being in trouble, and that might not be good!

See the report

Martin Graham
School Counsellor