6.3 The impact of mental health on well-being at school

Mental health

The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

Many pupils face challenges related to mental health. The school day can be difficult for these pupils. Mental health issues can affect both the pupils’ well-being at school and their academic performance.

Mental health is part of the education system’s social mandate

Schools should do more than just teach subject knowledge. They should also prepare children and young people for life’s challenges. Ensuring good mental health is an important part of the education system’s mandate (Bru et al. 2016). Academic learning is dependent on the pupils’ ability and opportunity to concentrate on the task at hand and to sustain their learning efforts over time. Mental health is important in achieving this (Richardson et al. 2012, Richardson et al. 2012, Richardson et al. 2012).


The Ungdata survey is carried out by NOVA and is aimed at pupils in secondary education. It uses a questionnaire to record data on young people’s use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco as well as various forms of criminal and anti-social behaviours such as violence and bullying. The survey has to some extent covered aspects of young people’s lifestyles such as their relationships with mum and dad, family finances, living conditions, their local community, well-being, school and education.

Mental health issues at lower secondary level

A relatively large number of lower secondary pupils suffer from various types of mental health issues, according to the Ungdata study (NOVA 2015). These conditions are often linked to stress symptoms. More than 30 per cent of pupils report that they have felt “very” or “fairly” troubled by thoughts such as “everything is a struggle” or “I worry too much about things” during the past week, see Figure 6.2. Around 20 per cent have felt “very” or “fairly” troubled by “hopelessness about the future”, “feeling unhappy, sad or depressed” or “stiffness or tension”. Almost 1 out of 10 girls in Year 10 and in upper secondary education are so affected that they could be deemed to be displaying symptoms of depression (NOVA 2015). More than 20 per cent of pupils experienced problems sleeping during the past week (NOVA 2015). There is close correlation between lack of sleep and grades. Pupils who sleep less have lower grades on average than pupils who sleep more (Hysing et al. 2016).

Some young people also struggle with physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, stomach pains and neck and shoulder pains. A total of 22 per cent of girls and 12 per cent of boys take non-prescription drugs such as paracetamol on a weekly or daily basis. Such physical complaints can be the result of a stressful lifestyle with demands and stresses on several fronts (NOVA 2015).

Figure 6.1 Mental health issues amongst lower secondary pupils. 2014. Per cent.


Source: NOVA 2015