Previous research has shown inconsistent time trends in adolescent mental well-being, but potential underlying mechanisms for such trends are yet to be examined. This study investigates cross-national time trends in adolescent mental well-being (psychosomatic health complaints and life satisfaction) in mainly European countries and the extent to which time trends in schoolwork pressure explain these trends.
Data from 915,054 adolescents from 36 countries (50.8% girls; meanage = 13.54; standard deviationage = 1.63) across five Health Behaviour in School-aged Children surveys (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018) were included in the analyses. Hierarchical multilevel models estimated cross-national trends in adolescent mental well-being and schoolwork pressure. We also tested whether schoolwork pressure could explain these trends in mental well-being.
A small linear increase over time in psychosomatic complaints and schoolwork pressure was found. No change in life satisfaction emerged. Furthermore, there was large cross-country variation in the prevalence of, and trends over time in, adolescent mental well-being and schoolwork pressure. Overall, declines in well-being and increases in schoolwork pressure were apparent in the higher income countries. Across countries, the small increase in schoolwork pressure over time partly explained the decline in psychosomatic health complaints.
Our findings do not provide evidence for substantial declines in mental well-being among adolescents. Yet, the small declines in mental well-being and increases in schoolwork pressure appear to be quite consistent across high-income countries. This calls for the attention of public health professionals and policy-makers. Country differences in trends in both adolescent mental well-being outcomes and schoolwork pressure were considerable, which requires caution regarding the cross-national generalization of national trends.
Cross-national time trends in adolescent mental well-being from 2002 to 2018 and the explanatory role of schoolwork pressure