Students feeling the stress deep down

Top News | Leung Pak-hei 30 Jul 2021

Abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea are highly related to poor emotional health, Chinese University researchers have found.

Those findings came in a survey conducted in April by the university's faculty of medicine and the Hong Kong Association of Careers Masters and Guidance Masters of 232 parents and 324 secondary three to six students from seven schools.

One fourth of the student respondents and over 10 percent of parents had moderate to severe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Almost half of the students and over 20 percent of parents showed mild to severe depression symptoms, while over 40 percent of students and 20 percent of parents showed mild to severe anxiety symptoms.

The results suggested that respondents with moderate to severe irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, such as diarrhea, have higher levels of depression and anxiety. It also indicated that members of the same family may share similar symptoms and emotional problems.

"These findings show that the shared symptoms between the parents and children may be due to their interactions, such as children imitating their parents in coping with stress, and environmental factors, such as when the family faces the same difficulties," said Yawen Chan, a clinical psychologist from the university.

She said family members should pay attention to whether they have any symptoms after one member starts showing them.

Justin Wu Che-yuen from the university's division of gastroenterology and hepatology said intestinal irritation acts as an alarm bell for poor emotional health.

"People with symptoms of stomach disorders, irritable bowel syndrome or bowel diseases will also have a higher risk of depression and anxiety, and vice versa," he said.

Wu said patients with the syndrome should pay attention to emotional health and consult a doctor.

He added that the syndrome's symptoms could be ameliorated with medication, lowering the intake of high-fat food and good stress management.

Association chairwoman Esther Ho Yuk-fan said the pandemic increased the stress faced by parents and students.

"Parents may need to spend more time dealing with affairs involving their children and students may lose their motivation to learn and become less connected to their friends," she said, adding that schools should rebuild a culture where a sense of achievement and connectedness hold sway among students.

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