In this Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 photo, a student works on her 6th grade assignment for English. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

UBC team to probe why kids find transition to high school stressful

Researchers at UBC’s Depression, Anxiety and Stress Lab are hoping families can help

The transition from elementary school to high school can be stressful, and just like other major life changes, it can put children at greater risk for depression, anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses.

Researchers at the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Lab at UBC are looking to figure out why some youth struggle more than others and hope families with pre-teens can help.

Ellen Jopling, a master’s candidate in clinical psychology, said in a news release Tuesday that 11.5 per cent of kids will have experienced a depressive episode by the end of the first year of high school. By the time they graduate, 40 per cent of kids will have struggled with a psychiatric illness.

“Meeting criteria for a psychiatric disorder in high school means you are three times more likely to experience a disorder later in life, so we know it’s a huge issue that can arise during that transition,” Jopling said. “What we don’t know is, who will be part of that 11.5 per cent? Or that 40 per cent?”

The research team is now recruiting youth for a six-month study. You should be starting at a new school for Grade 8. Through saliva samples, the team will gauge cortisol levels, and interview the kids and their parents. The youth will be asked to track their moods every day for the first two weeks of high school.

Jopling said the hope is that this information offers a better glimpse into the factors that cause mental health to dip, and that can then be turned into prevention strategies for parents to help their kids.

“We hope to create resources to share with parents in the community. One would be a large multi-user website, somewhere for parents to go who are wondering, ‘What can I do to help my kid?’

“The important piece is that we’ll learn the flip side of what put kids at risk.”

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