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Girls’ mental health a growing concern

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mental health of teenage girls, UK, worsened in recent years, DfE researchWhy is girls’ mental health declining, and what is being done about it?

Research conducted for the Department for Education (DfE) has revealed that the mental health of teenage girls in the UK has worsened in recent years.

The research which compared the experiences and attitudes of teenagers in 2014 with those in 2005, found an increase in “psychological distress” and 37 per cent of girls feeling unhappy, worthless, or unable to concentrate.

The figure for girls has risen by nearly four percentage points since 2005, while the figure for boys – 15 per cent – has fallen slightly.

The rise was particularly noticeable in young people from single-parent households and those living with stepfamilies, and in teenagers with a long-standing illness or disability which affected their education.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, described the situation as “a slow-growing epidemic”.

“There definitely does seem to be something happening. Over the period covered by the report we have seen a very disturbing change in admissions to hospital for self-harm in under-16s that have gone up by 52 per cent,” she said.

The study linked the increase in psychological problems with changing technology, stating that the dominance of social media and widespread access to the internet on mobile phones represented a “major change in the lives of young people”.

It cannot be denied that social media is invasive and can have a negative impact on users’ mental health and self-esteem.

Instagram, for example, is often described as a showreel of people’s lives, showing only the best, most attractive and highly edited moments.

And of course, there is the constant and stifling pressure to conform to society’s homogenised beauty standards, a pressure that girls are aware of from primary school age.

By the age of 10, almost a third of girls say that how their bodies look is their number one worry, and 10 is also the average age when children start dieting.

The research found that social media and smartphones played a part in everything from bullying to lack of sleep and pressure on friendships and relationships.

The mental health of young people in the UK has been getting worse for a number of years, and now seems to be accelerating.

ChildLine held 34,517 counselling sessions in 2013/14 with children who talked about suicide – a 116 per cent increase since 2010/11.

The number of children and teenagers who have presented to hospital A&Es with a psychiatric condition has more than doubled since 2009, and the number of hospital admissions throughout the UK for 13-19 year-olds with eating disorders has almost doubled in the last three years.

A spokesman for the Department for Education told the Guardian: “Children’s mental health is a priority for this government and we know that intervening early can have a lasting impact.

“We are putting a record £1.4bn into transforming the dedicated mental health support available to young people across the country and are working to strengthen the links between schools and mental health services.

“We are also driving forward innovations to improve prevention and early support, by investing £1.5m on peer-support networks in schools so children feel empowered to help one another.”

Figures recently obtained by Labour MP Luciana Berger contradict this however.

They revealed that mental health spending will be cut in many areas of Britain next year, and the spending gap between different areas will also widen.

For example, Haringey’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) will put 16 per cent of its budget towards mental health, whereas that figure will be just 5 per cent for West Hampshire.

This will be the third year that the government has failed to meet its target of increased spending on mental health, a failure which Berger, who heads Labour’s mental health campaign, described as “dangerous”.

Berger said: “Time and time again Ministers have promised that mental health spending would increase.

“Yet for the third year in a row this has not happened, with a majority of local areas planning to spend less of their budget on mental health.

“The result is services stretched to breaking point, patients at risk, and proper standards of care being undermined.

“There are bed shortages, massive waiting lists and cuts to early education and community services.”

While there is a vast number of fantastic mental health charities, such as Mind and Place2Be, doing life-changing work, they too are under immense pressure, and it should not be left to them to deal with the government’s failings.

Young people in the UK should not be suffering like they are, and should be given the help and support they need as soon as possible – not six months down the line.

We can only hope that the Department for Education pays attention to these new findings and does something to ease what is becoming an epidemic.

But, given the government’s track record on mental health, it doesn’t look too likely.

To read the full report, click here.

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