Girls in 2018 are facing a mental health crisis

In 2017 The Guardian newspaper reported a growing gender divide in mental health, with rising rates of mental illness among girls and young women.

From rising numbers of girls and young women undergoing mental health admissions, self harm and suicidal thoughts, there has been wide range of evidence over the last year showing that girls are facing a mental health crisis.

The reasons given tend to be the same: pressures of social media, body image and school.

For young women, the risks are particularly marked. They are facing sexual pressures, including from the availability of porn, which is informing relationships and driving the way men and boys behave towards girls and women. Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have increased in recent years. Sexual abuse and exploitation of girls remains widespread and young women are the most at-risk group for domestic abuse.

When you look at the types of mental health problems young women face, the more common disorders such as depression and anxiety are, as you might expect, widespread.

What is perhaps especially shocking is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, which one in seven young women experience. Young women are being traumatised by sexual and physical violence and abuse on the streets, in our schools and in their homes.

2017 has also seen a further increase in poverty, something that disproportionately affects women and children and which is another risk factor for poor mental health.

Unresolved trauma and the stresses and pressure of poverty underpin many mental health issues. For some girls, their way of coping is to self-harm. For others, it is using drugs and alcohol — sometimes, it is both. This can lead to more problems such as addiction and homelessness, leaving women even more vulnerable to exploitation and enduring poverty.

This year there will be a review of the Mental Health Act, legislation on the use of restraint, something which again disproportionately affects girls and young women and a domestic violence bill offering an historic opportunity to improve the response of public services to abuse.

 We need to recognise the impact of violence, abuse and poverty on young women and girls, and act now to prevent it having a devastating impact on their lives.

Article by Katherine Sack-Jones taken from The Guardian

Katherine Sack-Jones is director of Agenda, an alliance of 50 charities working to help women and girls at risk.

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