Exam results are over – but now it’s almost time for the new school year to start.
This can be a stressful time for all students. But new research shows that girls are increasingly suffering higher levels of emotional and psychological distress than boys, according to a study by the Department of Health on Year 10 students in schools in England.
A previous survey was undertaken in 2005 and the results of that have been compared with the most recent one. This year’s findings showed that 37% of girls were identified as “psychologically distressed” compared with 15% of boys – and the average levels of distress were more severe for girls, at four points higher. Back in 2005, girls were also displaying higher levels of psychological distress but the differences were less pronounced, and the percentage affected was lower.
In the latest survey, more of them reported feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness and an inability to enjoy day to day activities, as well as trouble sleeping, and other indicators of distress.
Mental health and wellbeing are now recognised as important issues for all of us, affecting our own lives and the lives of those around us. Years ago people appeared to assume that children led happy, carefree lives, and that mental health and emotional problems began with the pressures of adult life. Now Department of Health research surveys are measuring the health and wellbeing of young people and the results will hopefully inform government policy.
The discovery that there is a marked increase in psychological suffering experienced by girls is worrying. More needs to be done to find out why so many girls are feeling like this and why, so that help can be offered.
Whilst there is no definitive explanation at present, we do know that there are many factors which may contribute to the discrepancy between boys and girls in this respect.
For example, girls engage in less physical exercise than boys and exercise is beneficial not just for physical wellbeing but for psychological health as well. Neurotransmitters in our brains seem to react to exercise and produce feelings of wellbeing and even euphoria. Serotonin is one of these neurotransmitters and exercise has been linked to the production of higher levels of it in our bodies. Research indicates that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression.
Another reason why girls may be more distressed psychologically is that they tend to internalise issues – and the things we keep inside us are not usually the ones we feel good about. Girls are often more critical – and self-critical – than boys, especially about their physical appearance. A word of criticism will be remembered long after paeans of praise have been forgotten. Repeating negative thoughts inside your head is not going to do much for your self-esteem, or your confidence.
So there are many complex issues involved here and the upward trend is not easily explained.
But one area where there is an improvement on is in terms of recognition of the problem – at least now we are willing to acknowledge that children and young people are not simply skipping down a yellow brick road of happiness.
Unhappy thoughts and worries thrive in darkness and isolation. Bringing matters into the open and shining a light on them can only be a good thing.
Helping young people to become more positive about their perceptions of themselves is one way in which hypnotherapy can support emotional wellbeing. Changing a negative self-image for something more positive and realistic, and improving self-esteem, can make an enormous difference. This can’t be done in an instant, but a process can be started which will gain in momentum and hopefully create the foundation for a happier and more resilient adult.
The life of a 15 year old girl in the 21st century may not be a bed of roses – but at least we can try to remove some of the more obvious thorns.