British girls are suffering from mental health issues and adults are failing to recognise the signs and support them, according to findings released on Monday.
The concerns can begin as young as seven years old and continue into adolescence and beyond, with two in five girls aged 11 to 21 needing to seek help.
The study, which was conducted by Girlguiding UK, revealed self-harming, mental illness, depression and eating disorders top list of health concerns for girls aged 11 -21. By comparison, in 2010 girls’ top three health concerns were binge drinking, smoking and drug abuse.
But despite the rising numbers, the majority of girls (82%) believe that adults don’t recognise the pressure they are under.
Today some of the major concerns facing girls are sexual harassment and low body confidence, much of which is fuelled by social media and the digital age.
Girlguiding advocate Ellie Dibben, 18, told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "Girls and young women are facing pressures that many adults find hard to understand. The digital revolution over the past decade has led to issues like cyber-bullying and media sexism becoming an inescapable part of life – and with the rise of social media, it’s impossible to switch off."
Writing for Indy Voices about the findings, Harriet Williamson added: "It’s not enough to get a string of perfect GCSEs or A Levels nowadays, you see. You need the Instagram-worthy group of friends, the attentive and good-looking boyfriend, the lips of Kylie Jenner, the curves of Jennifer Lawrence, the doe eyes of Zoella, and the reputation of being sexy and desirable without being a ‘slut’."
This misunderstanding might reveal why two-thirds of girls aged 17-21 feel too awkward to talk about mental health issues.
Ellie Dibben added: "Mental health remains a taboo subject in our society, and many girls are embarrassed to discuss mental health concerns or ask for help. We need to encourage open discussion to break this taboo, and ensure that girls and young women feel confident to seek help when it’s needed."
So how can adults start to support them?
Girlguiding’s chief guide, Gill Slocombe, said: “As the leading charity for girls and young women, everything Girlguiding does supports girls’ wellbeing. In an increasingly complex world, we offer young women a safe space where they can be themselves, develop their confidence and build resilience.
“Just one example is our inspiring peer education programme – offering a space for younger girls to discuss sensitive issues in a supportive, peer to peer environment.”
Girlguiding chief executive, Julie Bentley, said: “The findings in the year’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey provide a stark warning about the fragile state of UK girls’ wellbeing. We need the support of decision-makers to start an open conversation about girls’ concerns. By listening to girls, we can work together to tackle the root causes of their distress – and champion their potential.”
Sarah Brennan, CEO of YoungMinds, said: “This survey is yet another wake -up call demonstrating how vitally important it is that teenage mental health is prioritised by all. It shines a powerful light on the mental anguish that so many girls face every day.
“Giving young people the tools to build their resilience is key to helping them navigate the complex world they are growing up in, and informal education networks like the sterling work done by Girlguiding have a vital role to play in this process .
“Parents and carers must also be given the skills, tools and information to help children as they journey through the emotional turmoil that goes with becoming a young adult, and spotting the signs if they are struggling.”
The findings will be published next month in Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2015, which, having polled 1,574 girls and young women aged between 7 and 21, is the largest survey of its kind into the views of UK girls.
Girlguiding is the UK’s largest charity for girls and young women, with 559,996 members and more than 100,000 volunteers.