Rise in unhappiness and mental health problems in girls

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Girls are more worried about their appearance than boys, says a new report, which highlights an alarming trend in self-harm among young teenage girls.

The Good Childhood Report 2018 highlighting children’s mental health and well-being has been released by The Children’s Society.

The report found nearly a quarter of children said they heard jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all the time at school, which made girls feel worse about their appearance and less happy with their life as a whole, although the same pattern did not apply to boys.

The research also found both boys and girls could be harmed by the pressures of gender stereotypes. Children who felt boys should be tough and girls should have nice clothes were least happy with life, according to the study.

The report also found that nearly a quarter of girls aged 14 (22 per cent) said they had self-harmed in just a year.

The Children’s Society highlighted a link between physical activity and mental well-being. Children with lower life satisfaction, and those with higher emotional and behavioural difficulties and depressive symptoms were less likely to be frequently physically active than other children, according to the study. Just over a third of children said they had been physically active on five or more days in the past week.

The report is the seventh in a series of annual ‘state of the nation’ reports on children’s well-being in the UK, exploring how children feel about their lives.

The report used a variety of data sources, including the Understanding Society study of children aged 10 to 15 and the Millennium Cohort Study of children aged 14.

The Children’s Society’s new Good Childhood survey of 10- to 17-year-old children and their parents across 2,000 households, which is also part of the report, found respondents were least happy with their appearance and with school.

The results found that in recent years, from 2009–10 to 2015–16:

  • there has been a significant decrease in happiness with life as a whole and with friends
  • there has been a significant rise in happiness with school work.
  • girls are significantly happier with their school work than boys
  • boys are significantly happier with their appearance than girls, although in the latest wave of data, the gap has narrowed

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, ‘It’s vital that children’s well-being is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health.

‘Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the Government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s well-being and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.

‘Issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality should be included in the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.

‘However, early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.’

Barbara Keeley, shadow minister for mental health and social care, said, ‘These alarming figures show the depth of the children’s mental health crisis in this country as a result of this Government’s failure to invest properly in children and young people’s mental health services.
‘The perfect storm of social and educational pressures facing young people combined with inadequate services has led to this epidemic, while all the Tory Government offers are half-measures in its Green Paper.
‘Labour will invest more of the mental health budget in children and young people’s services and ring-fence budgets so funding reaches the front line.’

A Government spokesperson from the Department of Health, said, ‘Making sure children and young people have the right mental health care when they need it is vital. That’s why we are investing an extra £300million to provide more help in schools, which will include trained staff to provide faster support to children.                 

‘We’ve extended our pilot scheme to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year to improve links between 1,200 schools and their mental health services, and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS we will announce more on how we will improve mental health later this year.’

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