Claire Black: Heed warnings about teenagers struggling to cope

Surveys show the mental health of girls in this country is getting worse. Picture: Getty
Surveys show the mental health of girls in this country is getting worse. Picture: Getty
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IN THE four years that have elapsed since researchers at the University of St Andrews last analysed the health and wellbeing of thousands of Scottish young people, things have taken a serious downturn. Especially for teenage girls.

At the age of 15, according to the survey, girls are twice as likely as boys to report nervousness, anxiety and depression. At the same age, 50 per cent of them think they are fat, but only 10 per cent are actually overweight. Eighty per cent of them say they feel stressed. According to the study, commissioned by NHS Scotland and involving 11,000 school pupils, only 27 per cent of 15-year-olds say that they are “very happy”.

And so we are faced with the fact that the mental health of girls in this country is getting worse.

As ever, what accompanies such news is an outpouring of earnest and well-intentioned pleas for this matter to be taken seriously and warnings about what might happen if we don’t. And then there has to be somewhere to place the blame. Advertising, women’s magazines, models, pop stars, they’ve all copped it in the past. The new bogeyman is social media.

Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. These communication platforms infiltrate every aspect of teenagers’ lives and fill up every moment of their days, ramping up the pressure for them to look a certain way, act a certain way, show themselves to the world in a certain way.

I don’t doubt that social media can have a deleterious impact. I know why I don’t go on Facebook and it’s not because it makes me feel good about myself. But, as the researchers make clear, social media is only one factor in a much more complex scenario that includes the relentless focus on the way girls in particular look and also the pressure on all young people to achieve.

You’d think we’d all be up in arms, wouldn’t you? You’d think, given that we know half of all adults experiencing mental illness began showing signs when they were teenagers, we’d be all over prevention and early intervention. And yet the reality is that it feels like nothing really changes.

After all, it was only a couple of months ago that another report, the Girlguiding girls’ attitude survey 2015, shocked all and sundry by revealing the parlous state of girls’ mental health and how out of step adults are in knowing about the pressures and fears with which young women struggle.

Four out of five girls asked for that survey said that adults didn’t recognise the pressure that they are under. More than 60 per cent knew a girl of their own age who had experienced a mental health problem, but 57 per cent said they felt awkward talking about mental health. In 2010, 56 per cent considered mental illness and depression to be a serious health problem among their peers but by 2015, 69 per cent did.

So what we know is that it’s getting worse. It’s getting harder for teenagers to cope and more of them are struggling. What we don’t know is how many warnings it’s going to take before we actually do something.

Is Edinburgh really the best city?

I JUST read a story about Edinburgh having the highest crime rate in Scotland, but then I read another story which told me that in terms of a new “quality of life” index, Auld Reekie is the best place to live in the UK.

This “fact” is based on crime rates, hours of sunshine, affordable living, average salaries and fast broadband. I guess it must be true then. I’m not disputing that the likelihood of being mugged and the chance of getting even a hint of vitamin D doesn’t mean anything, but as someone who routinely pays a fiver for a bowl of soup despite having had one pay rise in five years and has yet to encounter the phenomenon of trouble-free broadband, I wonder about the criteria for this index. And this got me to thinking about what is it that makes a place good to live in? Try it. Come up with three things. I reckon litter and dog mess free streets are my No 1 (Edinburgh not doing too well on those scores round my bit). Then streets designed for cyclists and pedestrians (oh dear, have you tried cycling up Leith Walk? It’s a double parker’s paradise). And a Uniqlo (nearest branch Oxford Street). Basically, I’m living in the wrong city.

Irrational behaviour

APPOINTED the chair of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, last week Professor Averil MacDonald said that women are opposed to fracking because they “don’t understand” and trust their gut instinct more than the “facts”. She is referring to statistics which show that while 58 per cent of men believe shale gas exploration should be allowed in the UK, only 31 per cent of women do. For someone who is professor of science engagement at Reading University, that is a strikingly unengaging way to caricature half the population. Hey ho, no-one said scientists have to be rational. «