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Keywords:

  • Adolescents;
  • depression;
  • disease;
  • life experiences;
  • violence

Aim: To investigate associations between negative life experiences and common illnesses among adolescents. Methods: Cross-sectional questionnaire study carried out at all lower secondary schools (10 grade) in Oslo, Norway, during 2000 and 2001 (n= 8316 pupils). Different negative life experiences and illnesses were addressed. Results: The participation rate was 88%. Among reported negative life experiences last year were a pressure felt to succeed (62%), death of a close person (26%), exposure to physical violence (22%), bullying at school (15%) and sexual violation (4%). A large number of the pupils had some chronic illness: hay fever (38%), eczema (29%) and asthma (13%). Reported illnesses the previous 12 month were: headache (56%), painful neck or shoulders (35%), sore throat at least three times (15%), lower respiratory tract infection (9%) and mental problems for which help was sought (7%). During the week prior to the survey, 26% of all girls had symptoms of a depressive disorder, while this applied to 10% of all boys. Fifty-three percent of the boys (29% of the girls) who had depressive symptoms had been exposed to physical violence. Sexually violated boys had a high probability for seeking help for mental problems (OR = 4.9) and for frequent episodes of sore throat (OR = 2.5). Corresponding odds ratios for girls were 1.7 and 2.5, respectively.

Conclusion: Common illnesses in adolescence are significantly associated with negative life experiences. In clinical encounters with adolescents not only should the presenting complaints be addressed, but also other common illnesses and relevant background factors such as negative life events.