A new European study finds that adolescents with high media use, reduced sleep, and low physical activity make up an “invisible-risk” group with a high prevalence of psychiatric symptoms.
In the study, researchers queried 12,000 adolescents (14-16 years old) from 11 European countries on a variety of health risk behaviors and psychiatric symptoms.
The results of the study are published in the journal World Psychiatry.
Statistical analyses of the results identified three risk groups among the adolescents. Individuals who scored high on all examined risk behaviors clustered in the “high-risk” group (13 percent of the adolescents).
The “low-risk” group (58 percent) consisted of responders who had no or very low frequency of risk behaviors.
However, in addition to these two expected groups the third group labeled the invisible-risk group was identified.
These behaviors are generally not associated with mental health problems by observers such as teachers and parents. But adolescents in the invisible-risk group had similar prevalence of suicidal thoughts, anxiety, sub-threshold depression, and depression as the ‘high’ risk group.
“As many as nearly 30 percent of the adolescents clustered in the invisible-risk group had a high level of psychopathological symptoms,” said Vladimir Carli, M.D., Ph.D., first author of the study. “While the high-risk group is easily identified by behavior such as alcohol and drug use, parents and teachers are probably not aware that adolescents in the ‘invisible’ risk group are at risk.”
The study is the first to estimate the overall prevalence of a wider range of risk behaviors and lifestyles, and their association with symptoms of mental illness among European adolescents.
The results indicate that both risk behaviors and psychopathology are relatively common in this population.
It also shows that all risk behaviors and symptoms increase with age, which is in concordance with earlier studies. Most risk behaviors were more common among boys.
Emotional psychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide were more common among girls.
This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 4 February 2014.