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Teenage Girls Experience Worse Mental Health and Self‑Harm More Than Boys: Study

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Jan 15, 2020

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Girls suffer worse mental health and wellbeing issues than boys, and more than seven in 10, double the number of boys, also end up self-harming, per a report published in Research Papers in Education.

According to researchers from the University of Warwick, UK, girls aged 14 are the “new high-risk group and this is linked to gender inequality such as sexist notions around body type,” the report stated. Other factors such as childhood poverty, neglect, and abuse, exam pressures, bullying using social media were also responsible for driving up rates of self-harm, per the report.

A few months ago, a similar report published in Lancet Psychiatry said girls were more prone to self-harm than boys because, “poor mental health among women and girls is often closely linked to violence and abuse, such as experience of physical abuse from a partner, sexual abuse as a child or sexual abuse as an adult,” said Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk to The Guardian. More than half of women with a mental health issue have suffered abuse, the article states with 25% of these women and girls experiencing it as a child, the article added.

In the current study, of the 11,000 students interviewed by researchers, 15% were found to be indulging in self-harm. Of them, 73% were girls, and 27%, boys. More teenage girls, than boys, reported experiencing negative moods. Among a quarter of the teenagers who reported feeling unhappy, more girls said they felt unhappy than boys. Teenagers also reported having feelings of poor self-image with girls experiencing this three times more than boys.

Researchers also found, for both girls and boys close to their parents, the chances of self-harm and building a negative self-outlook were less.

This could possibly be the case because vigilant parents alert their children about the possible risks of self-harm and make them aware of violence, said lead author, Dr. Dimitra Hartas, from the Centre for Education Studies, at the University of Warwick, in a press release.

And as this parental influence declines, forming relationships with people of the same age becomes a priority, Dr. Hartas said. “Meeting friends often out of school or playing with them unsupervised was found to have a positive impact on mood and outlook,” he added.

And poverty, he said was another factor raising the possibility of creating a mental health issue. Teenagers belonging to families with low income were 48% more likely to report low satisfaction compared to those who came from comparatively wealthier families, Dr. Hartas said.

In other findings, researchers observed, those who were bullied most days, or at least once a week were 10 times more likely to experience negative feelings than those who weren’t. And those spending less than two hours a day on social media, researchers observed, were less likely to experience lower life satisfaction compared to those spending more than five hours a day on it.


Related on The Swaddle:

Helping a Teen Who Self‑Harms Can Be a Long, and Common, Journey


The findings of the current studies, combined with those of other similar ones are important especially for policymakers to design better policies, taking into consideration factors such as understanding of societal trends and triggers such as wealth inequality and sexism, said Dr. Hartas.

Failure to do so will increase the rate of self-harm. “An increase in the prevalence of using self-harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long-term implications,” Dr. Louis Appleby, of Manchester University and one of the authors of the Lancet Psychiatry studies, told The Guardian. “There is a risk that self-harm will become normalized for young people, and individuals who start to self-harm when young might adopt the behavior as a long-term coping strategy.”

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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