24 Aug 2015

We need to talk about girls’ mental health

Since when did being a girl become such a worry? New research from Girlguiding suggests we should all be very, well, anxious about a plethora of anxieties afflicting our teenagers.

Almost half of girls aged 17 to 21 have needed help with their mental health, and self-harming, mental illness, depression and eating disorders are among the top health concerns for 11 to 21 year-old girls.


We’ve heard a lot about the apparent – and alarming – rise in childhood mental health problems. So the worrying thing about today’s research is how little adults seem to be tuned into what’s going on.

A staggering 82 per cent of girls surveyed say adults don’t recognise the pressures they face – pressures to get good grades and eventually jobs, and to look great, surrounded as they are by air-brushed images of skinny, seemingly perfect women in traditional and social media.

While they worry about things like cyber-bullying and their own mental state, parents are fretting about the old bogeymen – drugs, alcohol and smoking.

So, parents, we’ve got to get with the programme! After emailing my 11-year-old to find out what she was worrying about, and dutifully listening to the response, I went to chat to a bunch of very switched-on girl guides down in Croydon.

At first, they didn’t appear particularly worried. But after a few minutes they unpacked a range of anxieties, from GCSEs to looking amazing, to being liked on Instagram. They were all surprisingly happy talking to me about all this, but they agreed it wasn’t necessarily something they’d raise with the adults in their life – whether at school or home.

But if we adults do our bit, is it too much to ask the kids to meet us halfway? The Croydon girls seemed, at the ages of 13 and 14, encouragingly well-prepared for whatever life throws at them next.

So as well as asking the questions, and – more importantly – listening to the answers, can we do more to help other teenagers find the inner resilience to cope? As the mother of two girls, I really hope so.

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13 reader comments

  1. Romy says:

    The first thing wrong with this article is the audience it’s aimed at. Mental Health disorders don’t affect just females; they occur in males as well(and non binary people). There is a higher amount, that is documented, of girls having mental disorders but the article should be aimed at people in general. Speaking as a gender neutral 15 year old who just got through depression, I know a lot of boys who didn’t feel the same support that I may have gotten. Boys(non binary) can get eating disorders and depression- not just girls(non binary people). Of course there is a superficial image that girls feel that they should meet but boys(non binary) get it too. Boys are expected to be muscly and fit but because men are seen as dominant and strong so they don’t get the same support as a girl would.

  2. John Hill says:

    This story about “worried girls” seems to me to be a by-product of the PC need to be “outraged or upset” by matters which, until the PC Brigade began their attack on normal life were just accepted as “Normal”.

    The girl who called the police after a worker on a building site actually wolf whistled, sums up the ridiculous nature of the media led attacks on “normal British values”. A woman should be able to deal with silly situations without over reacting!!

    My mum was one of 4 sisters, and my Gran was very strict at how they should behave. As a result they were outspoken and confident and able to assert themselves by reacting to any situations without needing to feel “aggrieved”. Gran would no doubt deride the “selfies” society which media has created.
    Maybe “modern women” should have a role model like my Gran!!!, as MY mum could deal with any situation, and as a result, so can I, as I learned from her.
    Perhaps Ch 4 and other media should look at how manners, confidence and “proper ” appearance have been undermined by popular media outlets.
    My mum knew her own mind and was very confident, having above average intelligence, which made her an ideal role model for HER sons and daughters.

    Silly habits today make headlines.
    How about suggesting to families that they bring up their children to DEAL with life instead of following every media inspired bit of nonsense?
    It is sad how normal behaviour has been undermined by dumbing down so much that few youngsters actually are unaware what appropriate behaviour IS these days!
    Societal changes with the undermining of what used to be British Values is the reason girls feel they are mentally afflicted!!
    Girl Guides depressed??
    How about their motto “Be Prepared”? Have they learned nothing from Baden-Powell`s examples?

    1. Just Laura says:

      Hi John,

      I feel that your last comment about GirlGuides not being able to follow their motto as ridiculous. I am a GirlGuide, and have been for the past 15 years of my life. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be depressed. For many young girls, myself included (I’m 19) I suffer with depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses mentioned in this report. For me, going to my local units saved my life. So where you got your assumption that we can’t be prepared in life just because that was Baden Powells motto is ridiculous. And for the facts, ‘Be Prepared’ is for the scouts motto. ‘Girls in the lead’ is Guiding. And as to you’re double question mark in exasperation after saying ‘Girl Guides depressed’ is pointless. It’s as if you’re insinuating that just because they are part of a youth organisation you can not be depressed. Which quite frankly, is a pathetic point of view.

    2. Donna Franceschild says:

      Well, like the blog said, you are seriously out of touch.

      When you were bullied at school, were you safe when you got home, or were you ridiculed by your peers on Facebook and Twitter, receiving abusive texts on your phone? Did you have an only 50/50 chance of getting a job – any kind of job – when you left school? Were you given the message your life was over if you didn’t do well on exams? Were you bombarded with images of ridiculously thin women that advertisers wanted you to emulate so you would buy their products? Did the boys at your school regularly watch internet porn, resulting in their expectations that you look and act like a porn star when you were alone with your boyfriend? (“You would if you loved me.”) And if you didn’t, were you denigrated as a freak by cyber-bullying (see above)?

      I’m guessing not. By the sound of it I grew up in the same generation as you and I can tell you that girls are growing up in a different world than you did. The pressures of living in that world can lead to depression, self-harming, eating disorders and suicidal feelings. How do I know? I work for ChildLine and hear it every week.

    3. dalecooper57 says:

      “Be prepared” is actually the Scout motto.
      The girl guide motto is: “A Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.”

      1. lizzi says:

        No, that’s the Brownie law.

  3. Jo Wheeler says:

    This report is a result of Girlguiding’s latest survey of girls aged 7-21 and makes interesting reading. What Channel 4 unfortunately didn’t include, due to time constraints, was the response from Girlguiding about their ongoing work to help girls “Be Prepared”. How do I know this? I am the Guide leader of the girls in the report. Girlguiding does great work to boost girls’ confidence and equip them with the skills necessary to live and function as responsible citizens in today’s society.

  4. Pippa White says:

    I wish that all the examples my daughters get – from assertive parents, grandparents, teachers and guide leaders could overcome the terribly damaging effects of the pressures of life in 2015.

    I wish that bullying in the workplace didn’t happen and that casual sexism (that wolf whistle) didn’t affect me and my family. However, in the current environment where we are constantly measured against photoshopped celebrities, retweets and facebook likes, self confidence is a hard trait to maintain.

    Life has changed – a seismic change. The sheer quantity of testing that my daughters are subject to at school would have affected me badly. Both teenage boys and girls are finding outlets for stress that adults find difficult to understand but that doesn’t make them any less real. If you can’t succeed at school then perhaps you can succeed at not eating or exercising to excess. And if you need something to reduce stress then perhaps just a little cut will help where older adults might choose (with their disposable income) to get drunk or high.

    Instead of looking back to a fantasy time, this report suggests to me that we should really deal with the present and the future and drive change from the grassroots.

  5. Philip Edwards says:


    Blimey….anyone’d think Jimmy Dean never made “Rebel Without A Cause” and muttered the line, “I’ve been walkin’ round with my head in a sling”….and that was half a century ago in the era of “teenage delinquents” and teddy boys.

    What about the lads ey, Cathy? WHAT ABOUT THE LADS?!

    Are you being sexist?

    All those adolescent hormones flying around is enough to do anyone’s head in – girl, boy….or parent for that matter.

    So what’s noo?

  6. Bex Mezzo says:

    I have been a guide leader for 31 years and in recent years have dealt with suicide risk, self harm, drinking, anxiety and depression. The girls know you as their leader and are able to talk to you. As our county special needs adviser I organised a couple of well attending awareness sessions for guide leaders about self harm and now in our county we have more leaders with understanding of why – this was by the county self harm nurse from the NHS. Next year with our county senior section adviser we are organising a conference for 14 to 26 year olds which will talk about LGBT, Self Harm, Mental Health, Social Media Issue, Domestic Violence and much more. We are Girlguiding and we are there for Girls and Young Women who need extra help too.

  7. carol lamb says:

    I noted it’s only men who have commented (unfavourably) on this article – does that show how they deal with girls issues? I was brought up to be confident and independant, but unfortunately most girls are still subjected to stereotypical old fashíoned ideas that do not help them gain the confidence and independence that they are just as entitled to as boys. Many girls need support to achieve their best.

  8. Philip says:

    I’m not sure that talking about your gran and complaining about a PC culture actually helps girls today. Each generation of women have faced different problems in a rapidly changing society. My gran was in service. My mother was a coalminer’s daughter who went to university. She was very driven & difficult to love. I have 2 daughters. Both had problems as teenagers – one through bullying because of her talents, the other through bad influences, perhaps as a reaction to what her sister went through. They are now both adults in their thirties, one with 2 children. They are decent, sensible, caring human beings and I love them dearly and am extremely proud of them. They faced some of the current peer group pressures – but none of the immediacy & pervasiveness of mobile phones/social media. The previous generation who were brought up before this have relatively little understanding of how it affects children at a particularly vulnerable age. Parents should be trying to understand more, listen – often the hardest thing to do, especially when a teenager doesn’t want to talk about some things. But if you’ve given them a loving, safe, caring environment from when they were babies, instilled a measure of decency and common sense, there’s hope they can get through this time. What this seems to suggest that in a fast-moving, constantly changing world, perhaps too many parents aren’t giving their children enough time & attention, especially in those years when they are the most important influence in a child’s life. And as a grandparent, I may be able to mutter about the selfie, celeb, airbrushed perfection culture, I’m fully aware it’s current reality for these children and we have to deal with these issues within that reality…and if we can’t offer the essentials of a secure, loving, listening home, we are failing in our duty as parents.

  9. Andrew Dundas says:

    I love my daughters. As all fathers do.
    I’m also aware of the stresses they went through because the social desire to urge them to leave childhood behind and prepare for adult responsibilities all at once.
    The existence of social media and drugs, competitive struggles to be ‘attractive’ and the shock of on-line ponography are surely deeply worrying for our daughters.
    A less pressurised teenage life would be helpful.

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