The latest data from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reveals that anxiety and experiences of bullying among 8th and 9th graders in middle school have increased. The percentage of students reporting moderate to severe anxiety in the spring 2023 survey is even higher than during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. In particular, girls have experienced a significant rise in anxiety compared to previous years.
The survey conducted in 2023 shows that 22% of 8th and 9th graders reported moderate to severe anxiety. Girls (34%) experienced anxiety much more frequently than boys (9%). In 2021, these percentages were 30% for girls and 8% for boys.
"These results are somewhat surprising. We expected anxiety levels to decrease as more time has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic," says Olli Kiviruusu, Research Manager at THL.
According to THL's Chief Physician Terhi Aalto-Setälä, the recent findings require careful analysis to understand the underlying causes.
"During the pandemic, the daily lives of young people and families underwent significant changes, and we have not fully recovered from that. The concerns of adults regarding safety and the economy also affect young people," she reflects.
The increasing symptoms among young people challenge an already strained service system.
"We must ensure adequate resources and tools for basic services, especially student welfare services, to meet the growing support needs of young people. While basic skills have been strengthened through training, we still need more professionals," says Aalto-Setälä.
Addressing Bullying with Determination
The survey also reveals an increase in the percentage of students who experience bullying on a weekly basis.
In the 2023 survey, 8.6% of boys and 7.5% of girls in 8th and 9th grades reported being bullied at least once a week.
For boys, the percentage has returned to the levels seen around 2010 after a previous decline.
For girls, the percentage of those experiencing bullying at least once a week is slightly higher than at any time since 1996.
"When bullying occurs on a weekly basis, it is clear that effective intervention measures have not been implemented. Even occasional bullying is harmful. It is crucial that adults notice bullying, listen to all parties involved, and take decisive action. Support measures are needed for those who have experienced bullying," says Jenni Helenius, Development Manager at THL.
Loneliness remains at a similar level during the pandemic
The survey indicates that experiences of loneliness among students have remained stable for boys and slightly decreased for girls compared to the COVID-19 period. 9% of boys reported feeling lonely, while 21% of girls reported the same.
"For those who feel lonely, there may be no one to talk to. Schools should provide opportunities for students to engage in conversations, foster connections, and develop emotional and interpersonal skills to ensure that no one is deliberately left out," Helenius emphasizes.
Results Published on Sotkanet
The 2023 School Health Survey received responses from nearly 103,000 students in the 4th and 5th grades of comprehensive school (83%), approximately 91,000 students in the 8th and 9th grades (73%), around 45,000 students in the first and second years of high school (preliminary estimate of about 70%), and over 21,000 students under the age of 21 in the first and second years of vocational schools (preliminary estimate of about 30%).
The results related to anxiety, bullying, loneliness, and 16 other indicators from the School Health Survey have been published on THL's indicator bank called Sotkanet.
Other results from the School Health Survey will be released on THL's results service on September 21 and will be discussed at the Well-being Arena education event on September 26-27.
School-specific results will also be available in September and will be provided to educational institutions.