Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Stress-Related Symptoms in Swedish Adolescents: A Study in Two Upper Secondary Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Stress-Related Symptoms in Swedish Adolescents: A Study in Two Upper Secondary Schools

Article excerpt


Aims: Psychiatric symptoms, sleeping problems and stress are increasing in Swedish adolescents. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that a combination of two potential stressors (i.e., high academic proficiency and high urbanicity) in a school setting would be related to increased stress levels and stress-related symptoms among pupils. Our second aim was to evaluate correlations between perceived stress and psychiatric symptoms, sleep quality and personality traits. Methods: 202 Swedish high-school students from two schools, one with high academic proficiency in the Metropolitan Malmö area and one of average academic proficiency in a medium-sized town, participated. We used Internet-based versions of the following questionnaires: Symptoms Checklist 90 (SCL-90) for general psychiatric symptoms, Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-14) for stress, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) for sleep quality and Eysenck Personality Index (EPI) for personality traits. Results: There was no significant difference between the schools in any of the measured scales. Significant correlations between perceived stress and GSI score, PSQI score and the personality trait Neuroticism were observed. Conclusions: This study suggests no difference between the high academic proficiency/metropolitan school and the average academic proficiency/medium-sized town school in perceived stress levels or stress-related psychiatric symptoms.

Keywords: stress, adolescents, personality, academic proficiency, urbanicity

1. Introduction

Psychiatric symptoms and stress have increased among Swedish adolescents in recent decades (Bremberg, 2006; Petersen, 2007; Wiklund, Malmgren-Olsson, Öhman, Bergström, & F. Wiklund, 2012). Furthermore, there is evidence of a significant association between stress and psychopathology in children and adolescents from cross-sectional studies (Compas, 1987; Compas, Connor-Smith, Saltzman, Thomsen, & Wadsworth, 2001) and longitudinal studies (Hammen & Goodman-Brown, 1990; Hilsman & Garber, 1995; Rudolph, Lambert, Clark, & Kurlakowsky, 2001; Schmeelk-Cone & Zimmerman, 2003).

In Sweden, adolescents reported that school is the most important stressor (Bremberg, 2006). According to Ollfors and Andersson, most of adolescents' stress appears to be connected with their schoolwork. Regression analysis showed that stress contributed 4 % to final grades (Ollfors & Andersson, 2007). Chronic perceived stress was associated with lower final grades in two highly ranked high schools in the urban Stockholm area (Schraml, Perski, Grossi, & Makower, 2012).

There has been some speculation concerning whether students attending upper secondary schools with high academic proficiencies are more "stressed out" than other students. While there is no Swedish evidence covering this suggestion, in the USA, Suldo et al showed that students following the high achieving International Baccalaureate curriculum perceived more stress than students in the general education curriculum due to higher academic demands, but this higher perceived stress did not reduce academic performance. The absence of a reduction in performance was suggested to be due to adaptive coping strategies (Suldo, Shaunessy, & Hardesty, 2008). Kaplan et al, on the other hand, state that for students in high stress school environments in the USA an increase in academic expectations may serve to increase school-related stress and reduce academic performance (Kaplan, Liu, & Kaplan, 2005). Swedish adolescents, regardless of whether they attend a theoretical or vocational program, believe that those attending theoretical programs are more stressed than those attending vocational programs (Bremberg, 2006).

Urbanicity is another potential stress factor. The majority of young Swedish people report that they think that living in a city has a large impact on perceived stress. They believe that closeness to nature means that you are not experiencing the same stress as in a bigger city. …

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