Social connections key to happiness for “at-risk” teens

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An RMIT University report on the happiness of disadvantaged Australian teenagers has emphasised the vital role of family and friends in mental wellbeing.

The research examined the happiness of more than 23,000 “at-risk” Australian youth.

While the survey of more than 23,000 “at-risk” young Australians showed their disadvantage negatively affected two key evaluations of happiness, on average, young people were as happy with their social connections as mainstream teens.

Funded by the Federal Department of Education, the report by RMIT School of Health Sciences lecturer Dr Adrian Tomyn examines the happiness levels of young people aged 12-19.

The survey group were participants in the Department’s Youth Connections program, which provides support for “at-risk” youth across Australia.

Dr Tomyn said the findings supported the importance of the three corners of what has been termed the “Golden Triangle” of happiness – supportive relationships, money and having a sense of meaning and accomplishment in life.

“Disadvantaged young people tend to have significantly lower levels of overall happiness than the average young Australian, largely due to lower scores on ‘Standard of Living’ and ‘Achieving in Life’,” he said.

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“But they tend to score no differently to average teens on ‘Relationships’ and this seems to be a crucial factor that supports happiness and prevents further loss to wellbeing in the face of adversity.

“Friends and family are among the most important protective ‘buffers’ for mental health – they act as vital sources of comfort, reassurance and support during difficult times.

“People low on social resources are at high risk for depression when faced with a personal crisis, so the fact many of these ‘at-risk’ young people have strong social support networks is crucial for their current state of mind and future wellbeing.”

The research validated the approach of the Youth Connections program, with the proportion of young people scoring in the normal range for happiness increasing from less than two thirds to 81.8% after taking part in the program.

Additionally, the proportion of teens scoring in the critically low range for happiness more than halved.

Other findings include:

  • about one quarter of “at-risk” teens have a suspected or diagnosed mental health issue, which is compromising their participation in education
  • happiness decreases with increasing levels of youth disengagement, with those out of education or employment at very high-risk for low personal wellbeing and depression.

(Source: RMIT)

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Date Created: March 31, 2014 Date Modified: April 5, 2014