A study by staff at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh looked at 4,427 people aged between 10 and 15 across the UK and asked about their health-related activities and levels of happiness.
One in five said they were unhappy with the place they lived – or other aspects of their lives, including relationships with family and friends, school and personal appearance – and this had led them to take up smoking or drinking.
Altogether, 297 (seven per cent) were classi?ed as having an abnormal mental state while 490 (11.2 per cent) were “borderline”.
Dr Ivy Shiue, assistant professor of environmental health at Heriot-Watt, said the research indicated that many children and young people continued to resort to behaviours that damage their health in an attempt to cope with their dissatisfaction.
“They also tended to have a negative vision of their future and found it difficult to address challenges and stresses in their lives such as going to school, applying for jobs and making new friends.”
She called for more wellbeing courses that support physical health, positive relationships, education and work to be included in school curriculums and teacher training.
“Neighbourhood perception” – how people view their immediate home and school environment – is also a key factor in determining happiness, she said.
“There is very strong evidence that investment in promoting mental and emotional health, wellbeing and resilience of young people in early years can avoid health and social problems later in life. This can play a major role in how people behave in response to different and often challenging situations,” Dr Shiue said.
“People with a weak sense of self-belief avoid challenging tasks as they believe it’s beyond their capabilities, focus on personal failings and have low self-esteem.
“Classes in wellbeing and resilience should be introduced into the school curriculum to allow these problems to be tackled early on in a child’s life.”
Those who reported being unhappy said they were more likely to suffer from headaches or sicknesses, tended to not be nice to people, lost their tempers easily, spent more time alone and found themselves easily distracted or being bullied by people the same age as them.
A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, launched last month, called for political parties to set out their approach to improving wellbeing in their manifestos.
It recommends that doctors, nurses and teachers should be trained in mindfulness techniques to improve the mental wellbeing of patients and pupils.