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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