Teen Girls' Mental Health Struggle

3 November 2015, 14:18 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

A teenage girl pulling her hair out

There has been an increase in the number of 15-year-old girls experiencing emotional problems and poorer mental health, research has found.

The Scottish Government report said one of "the most important'' findings was the "striking difference in results for 15-year-old girls'' compared with the other demographics groups.

It stated: "This group appear to be suffering much poorer mental health and wellbeing than the other groups, particularly in relation to emotional problems.''

In 2010, 28% of 15-year-old-girls had a "borderline or abnormal emotional problems score'' which increased to 41% in 2013, the report found.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing among Adolescents in Scotland report looked at trends and key associations for the mental health of boys and girls aged 13 and 15 between 2006 and 2013.

Jamie Hepburn, minister for sport, health improvement and mental health, said: "We know that the patterns and prevalence of different mental health problems through childhood and adolescence vary according to age, gender and deprivation. It is essential that services match their interventions to this dynamic background.

"The apparent increase in the number of 15-year-old girls who are experiencing emotional problems is something that we will look at carefully.

"We have seen a significant increase in the number of young people asking for help with their mental health in recent years, which may be attributable to greater awareness and lower stigma.''

The report also found that friendships and a positive experience of school are the two things most closely aligned with mental wellbeing. Other factors with a close positive association include expecting to go to university and belonging to a club.

It found higher levels of deprivation and poorer physical health both correlate with lower levels of mental wellbeing, but that levels of mental wellbeing have remained ``largely stable'' since 2006.

Conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention and pro-social behaviour are said to have improved since 2006.

Emotional and peer relationship problems have worsened, which the report found was "largely attributable'' to the increase in the numbers of the 15-year-old girls reporting emotional problems.

Mr Hepburn added: "Child and adolescent mental health is a key priority for the Scottish Government.

"We have recently announced an additional £100 million of funding for mental health services over the next five years. Some of this will be directed towards further improving child and adolescent mental health services.

"This is on top of a £19.8 million investment since 2009/10 that has led to a 70% increase in the number of specialist psychologists working in this area.''

The report was compiled by Ipsos MORI using data from the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) 2006 to 2013.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume said: "We know children and adolescent mental health services are stretched.

"Some children and teenagers have been forced to wait over a year for treatment or to travel hundreds of miles to see a specialist.

"This report confirms that we still face major challenges in ensuring that young people can access the mental health services they need.

"The increase in the number of 15 year old girls struggling with emotional difficulties is clearly concerning.

"We need to understand why this is happening and ensure the right resources are in place.''

A spokesman for the Scottish Children's Services Coalition said: "The reason for declining mental health standards among 15-year-old girls and the increasing gap with other groups is a highly complex issue and one for which more research is clearly required.

"We are aware from research that over the last few years for girls there has been a rise in those with emotional issues, suggesting they face unique pressures.

"We can't say for sure why problems are increasing, but there are many factors that could contribute.

"These include increasing stresses on girls and young women, ranging from academic pressure to their increasing sexualisation and objectification, amplified by social media, with the drive to achieve unrealistic body images.

"This is leading to issues such as anorexia and self-harm.

"Young people in general feel enormous pressures today ranging from bullying, the 24/7 online environment and sexual pressures to issues around body image, school stress and family breakdown. 

"The recession also clearly had a major impact on this issue, with cuts in support to those with mental health conditions.

"Another issue could be the demise of the family unit and a feeling of greater vulnerability and isolation.

"The simple reason is that we don't precisely know, evidence of the clear need for further research on this issue.

"It should be noted that this is potentially only the tip of the iceberg and as societal pressures increase and there is increasing demand for services we would expect these numbers also to potentially increase. 

"What is required is early intervention and preventative measures to ensure that we can address these issues early on, rather than wait until major problems arise.''

Alison Johnstone, Green spokesman on health and wellbeing, said: "These are significant findings and must be investigated further.

"In general we know that good mental health and wellbeing among young people is at risk if they have fewer friends, dislike school and feel pressured.

"Encouraging support networks in and out of school and helping pupils play an active part in how their school is run would seem sensible steps to pursue.''

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: "These are somewhat alarming figures which illustrate why we cannot afford to sit back and permit a new generation of young people to endure issues with mental health.

"We know that studies also show a strong link between avoidable conditions such as alcoholism and obesity and poor mental health.

"It's for these reasons and others that Scottish Conservatives support the many campaigns, including the one launched this week by public figures and celebrities, to have mental health placed on an equal footing within the NHS with physical health.''