According to research from the United Kingdom’s Department for Education, the psychological well-being of teenage girls has declined markedly over the past decade.
Cited reasons for this drop in mental health include the growing pressure of social media and the near-constant connection that smartphones allow.
The study compared self-reported experiences and attitudes of 14-year olds in 2014 to those in 2005. The researchers found an increase in psychological distress, as well as the feeling that the young people themselves are no longer in control of their own destinies. They were also found to be more serious.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education called for more resources to address the problems more effectively:
“Children’s mental health is a priority for this government and we know that intervening early can have a lasting impact,” he said. “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.
The psychological problems are mainly hitting girls, those in single-parent households, and those in more well-off families. More than a third of English girls reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, writes Maev Kennedy of the Guardian. This was more than double the number for boys.
The researchers have suggested that the cultural and economic climate may be playing a big role in these teens’ lives, as well as the increased presence of smartphones and social media.
Since these teenagers have grown up in greater financial instability, they have become more work-focused and more likely to feel anxious and under pressure to succeed. Children of parents with higher qualifications may feel an increased sense of parental pressure, reports Alexander Ward for the Daily Mail.
Social media may also cause increased pressure, as teens are aware that they may be filmed and shared on social media at any time. Social media can also be connected with bullying, missed hours of sleep, and pressure on friendships and relationships.
Majorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said that over the course of the study, admissions to hospitals for self-harm by those under 16 has gone up by 52%.
Nick Harrop, campaign manager of the YoungMinds charity, says that due to social media, teenage girls are not only being sexualized and dealing with anxiety about their appearances, but are worrying about their personal social media “brand.” According to Radhika Sanghani of the Telegraph, girls are dealing with body image issues at climbing rates.
Others disagree, like founder of the Self-Esteem Team Natasha Devon. She believes that an individualistic, disconnected culture is causing these problems among teen girls.
On the upside, young people were found to be more engaged in school, more likely to want to attend university, and less likely to be involved in risky activities, reports Sean Coughlan of the BBC News. Only 12% reported drinking alcohol compared to 30% in 2005.
As far as solutions go, the research was inconclusive. It seems, say researchers, that “broad-spectrum initiatives aimed at young people” might be necessary.
Mental health problems are common and serious– one in four people in England will experience one in any given year, and across the world, they are among the leading causes of disability, suicide, and disease.
The researchers will continue to follow up on the teenagers.