24 January 2019

Active role for youngsters in research into mental well-being

On the initiative of UNICEF Netherlands, Utrecht University, the Trimbos Institute and Alexander Foundation are starting with a research project into the well-being of youngsters in the Netherlands. In this research, ‘Geluk onder druk?’, the youngsters themselves get a voice. One of these youngsters is the 18-year old Luc: “I co-observe the results to determine what is needed to really improve the well-being of youngsters.”

Dutch children are among the happiest youngsters in Europe, as was shown in the HBSC research led by researchers of Utrecht University. At the same time, there are more and more signals that the mental well-being of youngsters in the Netherlands is under pressure. Stress due to high pressure to perform, depression, loneliness and fear of failure appear to occur more and more often. It is possible that this is caused by the more and more complex society, which sets high demands for children in intellectual, social and societal terms.

Children's right

“Growing up healthy and safely is a children's right. Especially because we live in a well-developed country, a worry-free childhood should be almost self-evident. The fact that we're getting more and more signals that stress and depression are on the rise, is worrying,” says Director of UNICEF Netherlands Suzanne Laszlo. “Research is needed to gain more insight into and find possible solutions for these negative feelings among youngsters. Together, we work on a society where every youngster will be at their best.”

The listing of political-agenda items

The involved academics, who include Marloes Kleinjan and Gonneke Stevens, want to use this research to gain a clear insight into Dutch youngsters' mental well-being. How is it possible that especially youngsters in the Netherlands experience stress, in the country where researchers believe the happiest youngsters in Europe live and where emotional problems among youths have not increased in the past four years? With the answer to this question and other questions, UNICEF wants to determine which strategy and activities are needed to put this theme on the political, governance and social agendas and improve youngsters' well-being in a sustainable way.

We still know too little about how the Dutch youngsters are really doing.

Involved youngsters

Teenagers' visions and perceptions are important to this. Youngsters are involved in the set-up and execution of the research. Lieke (17): “I'm going to look into whether or not the questions are asked properly and whether or not they forget to ask questions to the youngsters.” Luc (18): “I co-observe the results to contribute to the determination of which measures can be taken in order to actually improve the well-being of youngsters.”

Vulnerability and risks

Marloes Kleinjan, a Professor of Youth Mental Health Promotion at Utrecht University en Programme Head of Epidemiology at the Trimbos Institute: “We still know too little about how the Dutch youngsters and their mental health are really doing. Adolescence is a time of possibilities, but also a time of vulnerability and risks. So it's an important time to invest in and know much about.”

The research is expected to take up sixteen months.