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Research finding

15-16 year olds: Girls have more psychological problems

Psychological problems seem tooccur more frequently among young girls than boys. Results from youth health surveys show that between three and five percent of boys and eight to ten percent of girls had sought help for mental health complaints in the previous year.

en gruppe med ungdom fra ulike nasjonaliteter.
These health surveys were completed in the period from 2000-2004 by 15-16 year olds in six counties; Finnmark, Hedmark, Oppland, Oslo, Troms and Nordland. NIPH administered the surveys in southern Norway but collaborated with the Centre for Sami Health Research at the University of Tromsø for the northernmost counties.

Many ways to measure mental health

Mental health can be measured using various methods. In the youth studies, the participants were asked to select from a list containing the ten most common psychological problems and to define to what degree they were affected. They were also asked if they had sought help for their problem(s).

Most girls show symptoms

The list included common psychological complaints such as anxiety, depression, sleeping problems and tension. The results show that more girls than boys showed symptoms. The responses were similar among girls from Nordland, Troms, Finnmark and Oslo with values of 1.62-1.65. There were fewer complaints among girls in Hedmark and Oppland. For boys there were more symptoms in Troms, Hedmark and Oslo than in Oppland, Nordland and Finnmark.

In adults, an average value of 1.85 or more can indicate that the person has psychological problems. It is uncertain where the boundary is for young people. All six counties showed less than 1.85 on average. A higher average score implies more problems (where 1 = not affected to 4 = greatly affected).

Up to one in ten seek help

A simpler way to ask about mental health is with the question ”In the last twelve months have you sought help for any psychological problems?” For all six counties, five percent of boys and nine percent of girls had sought such help. This method of asking about mental health gave a higher response among girls than boys.

Looking at the group who said that they had sought help, 30 percent of boys and 46 percent of girls had been to a psychologist or a psychiatrist at least once in the previous year. Figures from Sintef (an independent research organisation in Norway) show that the percentage coverage of psychiatric services for this age group is higher in the northern health regions than the national average, but this was not visible in our results.

Of all 15-16 year olds, 2.3 percent of boys had been one to three times to a psychiatrist/psychologist in the previous twelve months and 1.5 percent had been four or more times. 3.2 percent of girls had used such help one to three times and 3.7 percent four times or more.

It seems reasonable that a higher number of girls had used psychologists or psychiatrists since it was also girls who had reported most psychological problems.