Thousands of young people across the UK are in the midsts of a mental health crisis, with young women hit the hardest according to a whole heap of UK research which makes for pretty sober reading. One study from University College London and the University of Liverpool found that around 24% of 14-year-old girls and 9% of boys the same age have depression, and data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently found that the proportion of young people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 18% from 2009 to 2010, to 21% from 2013 to 2014. They also found that young women were more likely than young men to report symptoms of anxiety or depression, but that young women’s mental well-being scores were a lot lower than young men’s in general.
If you’re a young woman and you think you’re struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue – or you know someone who might be – read on to uncover the possible root causes and, what you can do to stem the impact.
Why are the UK’s young women struggling with mental health issues?
As the Guardian reports, young women are increasingly worried about issues in society that place pressure on them; friends, family, fears about their body image and pressures created by social media can all increase rates of stress and have a negative impact on mindset in a way that is less pronounced among boys of the same age. It was also suggested that young women from lower income backgrounds and who are ethnic minorities are often hit even harder by these stressors and suffer more as a result.
We spoke to Amy, 23 who became depressed when her Mother passed away and her job continued to mount pressure on her at work. She explained that it was initially difficult to accept that she was mentally unwell. “I thought I was just really down after losing my Mum” she said. “But then I realised that I couldn’t feel positive about anything and it became a real struggle to get out of bed in the mornings and talk to people. I stopped socialising with friends and didn’t want to do anything.” Amy’s best friend eventually intervened and told Amy’s Dad that she wanted Amy to seek medical help, and together they persuaded her to start cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) after being referred by her friend.
Although young women are more likely to seek help for mental health issues than young men, they often have more pressures to deal with than their male counterparts i.e. body and mental health issues such as anorexia, relationship pressures and social media pressures. We reached out to Naomi Barrow of The Blurt Foundation, a social enterprise dedicated to helping those with depression, to find out if she thought young people – and young women in particular – were prevented from talking about mental health issues or seeking help due to a perceived stigma attached to admitting to having mental health issues.
“I think that amongst young people themselves, the understanding is increasing” she said. “But there’s still a stigma and a lack of understanding, fear, and not knowing how to respond to those with mental health problems, that can feed into that. Parents, and other adults, can often hold a lot of stigma (largely due to lack of understanding), because mental health and mental illness weren’t spoken about as much when they were young as they are nowadays. There is also often a perception that young people are ‘too young’ to be mentally ill, which is wrong.”She continued; “Broadly speaking, young women are often more likely to cope with mental illness through things like self-harm, or talking about it with others, whereas young men often cope through things like aggression.”
How to deal with the symptoms of mental health issues
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, the first step is to identify the symptoms and then seek support and assistance. Mind, the mental health charity, lists the different types of mental health issues and what they look like. But if you think you may be depressed, the NHS notes that some of the key symptoms are;
- low mood lasting two weeks or more
- being unable to sleep
- feeling hopeless
- feeling tired or lacking energy
- loss of appetite
But each person is different, and may experience all or few of the above in varying degrees. It’s also important to remember that the symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis or other mental illnesses can all vary greatly and that you should see your GP if you feel mentally unwell in any way.
As Naomi advises; “If we begin to feel as though we can’t cope, then it’s worth talking to someone. If we can’t concentrate on our education or schoolwork, repeatedly feel paralysed by the thought of going into school, or seeing our friends, and are isolating ourselves a lot, then it’s worth speaking to someone. If we are having thoughts of harming ourselves, feel suicidal, feel unsafe, feel unable to eat or drink – or like we can never stop eating and drinking, feel as though we need alcohol or drugs to cope, then we need to talk to someone. If we are barely sleeping, or sleeping far too much, it’s worth speaking to someone. If we lose enjoyment in things we used to love it’s worth speaking to someone. If whatever we’re feeling, and however we are acting, feels different from our peers, it could be worth speaking to someone.”
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