Study's dramatic findings: High level of depression among high school students and inability to cope under stress. Photo: Virginia Star
Australian high school students are turning to violence, alcohol and unwanted sex to cope with problems a new study shows.
The study of the mental health of almost 4500 year 7 to 12 students, revealed that 34 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys felt constantly under strain and unable to overcome difficulties a further one in three girls and a quarter of boys are depressed.
More than half had low levels of resilience and of those, 43 per cent felt violence was an appropriate way to solve relationship issues.
A third were drinking at dangerous levels, and one in four lacked the confidence to say no to unwanted sexual experiences, while 16 per cent feel it necessary to carry a weapon.
One in 10 of the students from schools surveyed in Victoria, Queensland, SA and NSW, had gambled in the past year.
The findings, from Resilient Youth Australia, have prompted calls for the federal government to make emotional resilience lessons part of the national curriculum.
Psychologists and educators say many young people lack the basic skills of impulse control, conflict resolution and relationship-building to help them cope with life's challenges.
''As a nation, we need to start empowering our kids and giving them these skills. The kids who get violent on our streets and get really drunk often have no idea how to form a relationship. They are the same kids who are socially anxious and scared and believe that it's OK to resolve their problems by hitting somebody,'' said Andrew Fuller, a clinical psychologist and director of Resilient Youth Australia.
''The role of schools is in educating the whole child rather than just focusing on a narrow band of literacy and numeracy.
''Every child in Australia deserves this kind of learning.''
Fairfax Media last week highlighted the growing popularity of teaching emotional intelligence in schools, partly in response to concerns about youth suicide, bullying and mental health problems.
Emerging research suggests teaching children how to regulate their emotions not only helps reduce stress and anxiety but can boost academic performance.
The Resilient Youth Australia survey found only 8 per cent of of high school students had optimal levels of resilience - factors such as good relationships with adults, engagement at school and a sense of empowerment - which protected them against engaging in violence, alcohol abuse and dropping out.
One in five had been bullied online and a third were suffering sleep problems, while one in four lacked confidence, and had trouble concentrating at school.
In January, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a review of the national curriculum, headed by former teacher and ex-Liberal Party aide Kevin Donnelly.
Dr Donnelly, who runs the right-leaning think tank Education Standards Institute, said he could not comment on whether social and emotional learning would form part of the revised curriculum as submissions were still being reviewed.
A spokesman for Mr Pyne said: "The government has commissioned a review of the national curriculum to ensure it is of the highest standards and we cannot pre-empt the findings of the review.''