The Mental Health Crisis Among Girls.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
We live in a world of growing perfectionism.
From selfies to photo shop, young people are under pressure.
They are under pressure at school to perform due to our obsession with data driven learning. They are under pressure on social media – mocked, scorned and ridiculed for looking a certain way or acting a certain way.
Our children are growing up in a culture of growing unkindness.
So we as parents need to be the antidote to that and teach our children kindness, tolerance and patience.
We also need to teach our children resiliency and confidence to be themselves, particularly during the teenage years when it’s all about fitting in and not standing out.
The Growing Crisis
I read the startling statistics in The Guardian today about the growing crisis in girls mental health.
Girls are in a contradictory & conflicting position as they are excelling in so many disciplines from sport to science yet they are internally struggling to cope with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self harm as well as a new phenomena known as FOMO – the ‘Fear Of Missing Out due to the pressure of social media.
We as parents are not familiar with some of these pressures and I often work with parents who ‘Pooh Hoo’ these ways of feeling as not important or real. But clearly according to this comprehensive study young people, particularly girls, are struggling to cope.
We have to ‘Talk & Teach’ our children to discern between real fears & dangers and imagined fears that hold us back, keep us stuck and damage our ability to cope or navigate the world. We have to teach them resiliency, self confidence and self belief.
But how do we as parents teach that to our children?
The dictionary defines resiliency as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’
It is a complex problem but perhaps the answer lies in talking & teaching our children to be emotionally literate, and to teach them to feel a sense of belonging to their family and the wider community in real life, not just online, helping them to feel competent to handle life with its ups and downs through allowing them to problem solve from an early age with your support, to feeling that they matter and are significant & important, just for being who they are, and they also need bravery to ride the ups and downs of life. Life is packed full of good and bad experiences, frustrations, disappointments and challenges. It’s a risky and precarious adventure so developing courage in your children is important. It will help them resist peer pressure, media pressure and societal pressure to be, act or behave a certain way.
How Can Emotional Intelligence Help?
The terms emotional intelligence and emotional literacy both refer to the ability to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express emotions.
‘Emotional intelligence’ is a child’s overall ability to deal with their emotions, while ‘emotional literacy’ suggests a person’s ability to communicate their emotions through words and read them in others.
There are five main aspects of emotional intelligence which, when developed, lead to children becoming emotionally literate. These are identified by Daniel Goleman in his fascinating book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’.
- Knowing emotions. A child recognises a feeling as it happens.
- Managing emotions. A child has ways of reassuring themselves when they feel anxious or upset.
- Self-Motivation. A child is in charge of their emotions, rather than controlled by them.
- Empathy. A child is aware of what another person is feeling.
- Handling relationships. A child is able to build relationships with others.
Can we teach children to be emotionally intelligent?
Absolutely. Some children are instinctively in tune with their feelings and emotions, and will be ready to deal with new/ different situations/people more easily. Others may need a bit more help. All children need to have their emotional literacy nurtured, supported and encouraged, so by ‘talking and teaching’ your child to express themselves appropriately you are empowering them to navigate the emotionally choppy waters of growing up successfully.
Top tips for helping your child develop emotional literacy
- Accept your child’s emotions and their emotional responses. Don’t immediately judge, criticise or negate how your child is feeling. Name the emotion for them and say things like: ‘Oh, that sounds really frustrating,’ or, ‘How lovely, I can tell how excited you are.’
- Label their emotions with them. Doing so helps children feel understood. For example, say, ‘You sound upset,’ or, ‘You look worried.’
- Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Create an environment where it’s safe to talk openly about feelings and emotions free from judgement, criticism or finger-pointing. Say things like: ‘You sound really fed up. Shall we have a chat?’ and, ‘How did that make you feel?’
- Help them to recognise the signs about how others may be feeling. In stories, books or TV programmes, ask open-ended questions to help your child step into the shoes of a character or person. Say, ‘How do you think that made him feel?’ or, ‘How would you feel if that happened to you?’
- Teach them how to calm down and press their imaginary ‘pause button’. Encourage them to take three deep breaths and say a simple mantra of, ‘I can feel calm inside.’ After that, encourage them to go and do something they find calming and relaxing.
- Teach children alternative ways of expressing their frustrations. Ask your child an open-ended, empowering question to help them feel that they have choices. For example, say, ‘How could you explain how you feel using your words rather than hitting?’ or ‘Can you think of a different way to let him know how angry you are?’
- Recognise what motivates them to perform at their best. Encourage your child rather than praise them: focus on celebrating the behaviour and effort, not just the result. Say things like, ‘I’ve noticed that when things get difficult you just keep trying – that’s fantastic’.
- Model how to remain calm and in control when you are tired, angry or fed up. Say, ‘I’ve had a tough day at work – can we talk about this later when I’ve had a chance to relax?’
Seize every opportunity
Whether it’s to model, teach and empower your child towards becoming emotionally literate, you will watch them blossom into happy, confident, resilient adults who are tolerant of race, gender and disability, and who will have positive mental health, well-being and quality of life. What better gift can you give them?
Building The Bridge Between Home & School.
Through ‘Talking & Teaching’ your child to feel valued and significant within your stable home environment, through limiting their use of social media and apps, through talking and teaching them about healthy eating, healthy body image and healthy relationships you can build their self esteem so that they can withstand some of the pressures surrounding them.
“Girls and young women are experiencing a “gathering crisis” in their mental health linked to conflict with friends, fears about their body image and pressures created by social media, experts have warned.
Rates of stress, anxiety and depression are rising sharply among teenage girls in what mental health specialists say is a “deeply worrying” trend that is far less pronounced among boys of the same age. They warn that the NHS lacks the resources to adequately tackle the problem.
New NHS data obtained by the Guardian reveals that the number of times a girl aged 17 or under has been admitted to hospital in England because of self-harm has jumped from 10,500 to more than 17,500 a year over the past decade – a rise of 68%. The jump among boys was much lower: 26%.
Cases of self-poisoning among girls – ingesting pills, alcohol or other chemical substances – rose 50%, from 9,700 to 14,600 between 2005-06 and 2015-16. Similarly, the number of girls treated in hospital after cutting themselves quadrupled, from 600 to 2,400 over the same period, NHS Digital figures show.
Rising levels of “body dissatisfaction” – insecurity and low self-esteem about their appearance – have been identified as driving the unprecedented levels of mental turmoil in young women.
“There is a growing crisis in children and young people’s mental health, and in particular a gathering crisis in mental distress and depression among girls and young women,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, the chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “Emotional problems in young girls have been significantly, and very worryingly, on the rise over the past few years.”
Increasing numbers of academic studies are finding that mental health problems have been soaring among girls over the past 10 – and in particular five – years, coinciding with the period in which young people’s use of social media has exploded.
The mounting evidence of low self-esteem among British girls reflects a trend in many other countries in recent years of more and more young females suffering from anxiety and depression.
Girls aged 11, 12 and 13 displayed a “gender-specific vulnerability”, triggered by the onset of puberty, which made them much more likely to worry, sometimes intensely, about their appearance around the time they started secondary school, added Patalay, a lecturer in population mental health and child development at Liverpool University.
“Body dissatisfaction is seen in about 10% of girls at primary school but really jumps in early adolescence, as puberty is starting. During this period girls tend to self-objectify more than boys, experience more teasing around weight and shape and perceive more pressure from friends and family to be thin,” she wrote in a 2015 paper.
Evidence suggested girls could start to internalise anxieties about their appearance from the age of 11, which about a year later emerged as mental health problems, she added.
About half of 15-year-old girls in England and Scotland and a quarter of boys the same age think they are too fat, the World Health Organization found last year
“Many of the teenage girls we work with tell us that they face a huge range of pressures. In particular, the rise of social media means they need to always be available, they may seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares, and they are faced with constant images of ‘perfect’ bodies or ‘perfect’ lives, making it hard not to compare themselves to others,” said Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the charity Young Minds.
Dr Helen Sharpe, an expert in youth body image and lecturer in clinical psychology at Edinbugh University, said: “In girls, body dissatisfaction is associated with higher levels of dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviours like skipping meals and smoking cigarettes, and also lower levels of physical activity.”
Social media such as Snapchat and Instagram “can be damaging and even destructive” to girls’ mental wellbeing, said Dubicka. “There’s a pressure for young people to be involved 24/7 and keep up with their peer group or they will be left out and socially excluded.”
Use of social media was also contributing to a growing culture of sleep deprivation among young people, which could both be a symptom of mental illness and also increase the risk of one developing, including depression, she added.
Girls’ tendency to worry more than boys, and their greater sensitivity to criticism have also been pinpointed as potential triggers for distress.
“Girls do have a tendency to ruminate – to worry extensively – more than boys about things of concern, like their friendships, their appearance and fallouts, often in groups. This worrying is a risk factor for depression and may help explain the high prevalence of depression in 14-year-olds,” added Dubicka.
What Can Do As A Parent To Help, Support & Nurture Your Daughter.
- In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.