Mental health issues among UK girls escalate in the face of spending cuts
A survey from Girlguiding UK estimates that almost half (46%) of UK girls aged between 17-21 have sought help for mental health problems, with self-harming cited as the main cause for concern among girls aged 11-21.
28% of girls surveyed aged 11-16 reported struggling with mental health issues, highlighting a need, say charities, for earlier intervention and open conversation.
It comes at a time when the government has been accused by the opposition of failing to deliver on its pre-election pledge to invest in mental health services for both adults and young people. The results of a Freedom of Information request, made by the Labour party to NHS commissioning bodies, appear to indicate that mental health budgets for 2015-16 have been cut across at least 50 of the 130 Clinical Commissioning Groups contacted.
Girls Attitudes Survey
Girlguiding UK's annual Girls' Attitudes Survey considers around 1,500 girls views on a range of topics, including health and well-being, education, relationships and careers, thereby offering a comparitive measure into how societal change may be impacting upon girls and young women. Key findings for 2015 include what Girlguiding UK describes as a 'dramatic change' to reported mental and emotional well-being among UK girls over the past five years. It found that girls of all ages, including some as young as 7, are experiencing problems with mental well-being.
Girlguiding Chief Executive, Julie Bentley, says: "The findings in this year’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey provide a stark warning about the fragile state of UK girls’ well-being. We need the support of decision-makers to start an open conversation about girls’ concerns. By listening to girls, we can work together to tackle the root causes of their distress – and champion their potential."
When asked to name the most significant issues facing their peers, mental heath, including self-harm, depression and anxiety, cyber-bullying, eating disorders and future job prospects were found to be the biggest causes for concern among girls aged 11-21. In addition, a staggering 75% of girls aged 11-21 said anxiety about the prospect of sexual harassment had negatively affected their lives.
62% of girls aged 11-21 also said they knew of at least one of their peers who had suffered from mental health issues. These worries were listed above drug or alcohol use - which the girls reported topped their parents cause for concern, and 82% of girls said their parents did not recognise the pressures they faced. Despite this reported increase in concern, 66% of those aged 17-21 said they had difficulty discussing the issue of mental health, saying it made them "feel awkward".
Children's mental health charity YoungMinds, which has called for a minimum standard for the provision of children's mental health services, described the findings as a "wake-up call" highlighting the "mental anguish so many girls face every day".
YoungMinds says that as many as 1 in 12 young people self-harm and official figures could be the 'tip of the iceberg' since many young people who self-harm never come to the attention of health services. It says that in the past two years, ChildLine has reported an increase of 167% in counselling relating to the issue. YoungMinds says that 38,000 children were admitted to hospital in 2011 with injuries relating to self-harm.
Writing for The Telegraph, Emma Gees, advocate for Girlguiding UK and a newly-qualified doctor who has herself battled body image issues, says: "As a senior section leader for Girlguiding UK, I have seen girls struggle with the stresses of exams, social media and body image.
"In the run up to results day - GCSE and A-level results were both published this month - they put huge amounts of pressure on themselves."
Social media anxiety
Additionally, Emma believes that the digital revolution has contributed to stress among young people. She says: "Now, when young people go home they can no longer escape or switch off from the pressures that surround them. Social media is a constant presence that makes young people even more vulnerable and brings with it a new set of anxieties."
The issue of children's well-being also made headlines last week following the publication of the results of an international survey, conducted by The Children's Society, ranking nations on their children's reported 'overall life satisfaction'.
England ranked 14 out of 15, with bullying among both boys and girls found to be a major factor contributing to children's unhappiness. English girls ranked second lowest for happiness with their body confidence, self-confidence and appearance.
In a bid to address the situation, The Children's Society has subsequently called for a new law to provide counselling in schools.
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