A survey of 1,574 girls and young women aged 7-21 has revealed that self - harm, mental health, depression and anorexia are the biggest health concerns facing young women today. And with Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHS) being hacked back to the bone by welfare cuts, the government need to take action before it's too late.
The results of the 'Girls' Attitudes Survey', which is carried out annually by Girlguiding signals an urgent call to action from the government and the NHS to invest more in mental health services and mental health education for young people. 75% of all adult mental illnesses start by the age of 18 and the number of working days lost to mental illness every year costs the economy £70-130 billion. Logically, underinvestment in children's mental health is nonsensical and the failure to act in the face of this new evidence would mean risking a future population of unhappy, unhealthy adults.
Girlguiding found that two out of every five girls aged 7-21 has required help with their mental health (37%) and this figure only increases with age, rising to 46% of girls in the 17-21 age bracket. Self - harm is top of the list of health concerns as three quarters (75%) of girls aged 11-21 listed self - harm as a serious health issue facing their peers. Self - harm was considered an even bigger health concern than smoking which topped the list in 2010 alongside binge drinking and drug abuse. Depression and eating disorders were also top of the list. Last week, findings from a white paper published by senior civil servants found self - harm and eating disorders were on the rise in young people but binge drinking and other substance abuse behaviours have been steadily declining in recent years. (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/teenagers-are-swapping-alcohol-and-drugs-for-selfharm-and-eating-disorders-10457398.html)
But despite the increase in mental health concerns among young women, getting help for mental health issues is becoming harder than ever. A report by Young Minds found that two thirds of local authorities have experienced significant funding cuts to their CAMHS budgets since 2010. This means that children now face endless waiting lists to see a mental health professional and only the most severe mental illnesses may be treated. In fact, over half of the 11-21 year old girls surveyed (52%) said they needed more information about where they could get help for mental health problems. The government recently vowed to invest £1.25 billion to improve mental health services for young people and with these alarming statistics in mind, we can only hope that they follow through with their promise.
There was also a call for more mental health education to be provided to young people as 53% of girls aged 11-21 felt that they didn't know enough about the mental health issues facing their peers. The low levels of mental health education in British schools and universities may contribute to the stigma which surrounds mental illness; Girlguiding found that two thirds of young women aged 17-21 (66%) find it awkward to talk about mental health. The debate around mandatory mental health education in schools couldn't be topical as exam board AQA announced that it was dropping suicide from the A- Level syllabus in June and a recent petition to place mental health on the curriculum has gathered 21,000 signatures. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104545
Perhaps with the Girls' Attitudes Survey finding that less than half (44%) of 11-16 year olds had talked about mental health during lesson time the Department of Education will make a commitment to improve counselling services and mental health education in schools.
We need to see change happen and we need to see it happen fast if we are to protect the future well - being of the British public.