The truth about teen mental health

New research shows almost half of British girls aged 17 to 21 have suffered with mental health problems. Here, 24-year-old doctor and Girlguiding leader Emma Gees explains why.  Mental health is the top health concern facing young girls today, according to Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey.

It’s found that 62 per cent of girls, aged 11 to 21, know a girl or young woman who has experienced a mental health issues. While almost half of 17 to 21 year olds have sought help for their mental health needs.

I’m not at all surprised.

In today’s world, girls feel under pressure to have it all: perfect grades, perfect body and perfect social life.

The last ten years have seen a revolution in the digital world. 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. Is it any wonder that 82 per cent of girls feel adults don’t understand the kind of stresses they are under?

I recently qualified as a doctor and have seen first-hand the high prevalence of mental health issues among young people. Many feel it is an awkward or taboo issue, and feel uncomfortable talking about it.

Young people are bottling up their feelings until they reach crisis point - and it’s only once they arrive at A&E that they finally open up to someone about their depression, eating disorders or anxiety.

Common notions that mental health isn’t as important as physical health, or that people with mental health problems just need to ‘pull their socks up,’ act as barriers to many seeking help.

But it’s so important they do.

The truth about teen mental health 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 exam results day - GCSE and A-level results were both published this month - they put huge amounts of pressure on themselves.

I kept reminding them that grades don’t define you as a person. It seems easy for me to say, having already finished my education, but I remember spending the summer leading up to results day in a state of constant stress and panic.

In the UK, we are also obsessed with weight.

We’re bombarded with images of unrealistically thin models and celebrities, making many people question their own bodies. If someone lacks confidence about the way they look, these images often make them even more self-conscious, lowering their self-esteem and affecting their mental health.

I have seen first-hand what can happen when someone has poor body image. I have seen friends shrink in personality and become shadows of their former selves, missing out on opportunities and not achieving their potential.

I’ve struggled with my own body image for years and have spent more time than I can remember on diets. I used to think if I was thinner, or if I had longer legs, I would be happier.

Now I know that how we look isn’t an indicator of our achievements or happiness - we’re all made differently and should celebrate that.

We desperately need to open up the table for a frank discussion around such pressures and the topic of mental health. It’s vital we start talking about wellbeing in schools, signposting young people to services and providing support for those who need it.

For this to happen, advice and guidance for adults working closely with young people, including medical professionals and teachers, is a must.

Nurturing resilience - the capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances - is also essential in the fast paced and critical world we live in. By having resilience, girls can learn to cope with pressures and reduce the impact these have on their mental wellbeing.

Girlguiding has been involved in many projects about body image and mental wellbeing, and is willing to open up a dialogue on such an important topic.

The recent ‘Free Being Me’ programme, an activity based resource for seven to fourteen year olds, provides an opportunity to learn about body confidence in a safe group setting. The ‘Me in Mind’ programme also encourages Guides and Senior Section members to think about mental health and emotional wellbeing in a positive way.

By providing young people with information and space for discussion, we can banish mental health myths and encourage individuals to feel comfortable in their own skin.

The latest stats show just how urgent it is that we do this for girls in Britain. They need our help to ask for help, before it’s too late.


By Emma Gees, Member of Girlguiding’s youth advocate panel

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