Teenage Anxiety Epidemic
More young women aged 16 to 24 than ever before are experiencing mental health problems according to a government study, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, published last week. ‘Young women have become a key high-risk group,’ it said. The survey followed another recent study that found more than a third of teenagers experience three or more symptoms of anxiety — which include feeling unhappy, worthless, and unable to concentrate.
A study of 30,000 teenagers published by the Department for Education a month ago found that the number of girls with anxiety or depression had risen by 10 per cent in a decade, with girls more than twice as likely as boys to suffer from mental health problems. These findings suggest that millions of teenage girls in the UK are psychologically unwell.
But while some experts argue we are facing a new and unprecedented epidemic of mental illness among adolescent girls, others maintain that young women have always been an at-risk group — and increased awareness could explain the explosion of the problem.
Keith Stenning, the chair of the charity No Panic, which supports people with anxiety disorders, is in no doubt that there is a true rise in the numbers affected. He says calls to the charity’s youth support line have increased by 70 per cent in the past year alone. ‘More than two-thirds of our callers are teenage girls,’ he says.
‘Their anxiety problems are predominantly panic attacks and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), such as persistent and worrying thoughts.’
Cal Strode, a senior officer at the Mental Health Foundation, says: ‘Given the evolving pressures such as increased exam expectations and cyber-bullying, I would be stunned if things have not got worse. ‘We only have to think how hugely children’s lives have changed in the past 14 years.’
He believes a Devil’s brew of new social pressures including keeping up with a ‘perfect’ image means that adolescent girls are facing daily strains which raise their risk of anxiety-related disorders.
This may make them particularly vulnerable to breakdowns if they are hit by an additional traumatic experience, such as a bereavement, or not getting the right exam grades, he suggests.
Words by John Naish