With mental health being a hot topic in today’s society, mental illness is now more openly discussed than ever before. This increased awareness has brought with it an increase in mental health stigma and discrimination. Although mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of, these challenges are often seen as a sign of weakness. But what about girls? More specifically, adolescent girls are at a greater risk of developing mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, which can have devastating consequences on their mental well-being and future. It’s time we start talking about girls’ mental health too!
Girls, Young Women, and Their Mental Health
When we have the flu or injure ourselves, most don’t wait to seek medical help. Also, many of us are responsible enough to get annual physicals so doctors can ‘check up’ on our bodies. And yet, mental health rarely receives this much attention. The stigma associated with mental illness forces people to ignore the symptoms, making things worse in the long run. But our mental health is just as important as physical health. If this happens with grown people, imagine what issues can cause to young people, especially girls. It can be particularly tough for girls and young women to recognize or admit they need help and get the support and care they need to heal.
The pressure to please others and succeed and the pervasive discrimination, homophobia, trauma, stereotypes, and violence make growing up as a woman tough, especially for girls from underprivileged communities, who are at a greater risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Nowadays, one in five teens reports suffering from some mental illness, and for girls, the numbers are on the rise. The number of girls committing suicide has tripled in the past 15 years!
Girls today are facing a real mental health crisis, and that’s a fact. Unfortunately, too many feel uncomfortable asking for help because of the prevalent stigma or lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare. But, if left unaddressed, mental health issues can have severe and life-long consequences. Girls with mental health problems tend to withdraw from classes and activities, engage in unhealthy relationships, self-harm, etc.
By supporting girls’ mental health, we can boost their ability to lead healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. They are our future doctors, teachers, mothers, scientists, etc. To be precise, they are our future. They need a safe space to communicate their feelings and realize they are not alone. They need resources and support to deal with body image and self-esteem issues, challenges at school and home, and personal relationships. Most of all, they need to tear down the stigma that comes with it.
Mental Health Stigma and the Struggle of Adolescents With the Issue
Girls’ mental health is a growing concern in our society. The issue becomes more complicated when you factor in that we live in a time of collective trauma and need to find ways to heal from it collectively. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and addiction have been on the rise among girls and young women for years now, and it’s only getting worse.
Mental illnesses are usually due to cognitive, emotional, and physical factors, often caused by environmental stressors, including exposure to trauma and abuse. Dealing with these kinds of issues can lead girls down deeper paths of mental illness. Why? Because girls and young women are faced with more expectations put upon them by society. Instead of enjoying their youth and learning who they are, girls are stressed and overwhelmed. Mental illness can also affect how they behave, think, feel or interact with others.
The stigma around girls’ mental health has resulted in many women not speaking out about their illnesses as they fear being judged by society for having an issue that needs support. While mental health is being discussed more in the community today, the public still stigmatizes mental disorders, who think mental issues aren’t real illnesses but signs of weakness. This can be extremely difficult for girls to deal with as it prevents them from getting the help they need while also living everyday life like other young women their age.
The media perpetuates the mental health stigma around young women, who often portray teen girls with mental illness or depression as the ‘psycho teens’ or the girls who are troublemakers in school. When mental health conditions affect girls’ mental state, it can result in anger, sadness, and mood swings which means they often become withdrawn from their peers, family members, and friends as well as experiencing low self-esteem.
Many mental disorders are also linked to self-esteem issues, eating problems like anorexia and bulimia, common in teen girls with mental health issues, but these often go unnoticed or untreated. Many mental disorders are also linked to substance abuse and addiction, affecting girls’ mental state and relationships with family members, friends, and partners.
Nevertheless, girls can help fight mental health stigma by speaking up, being a part of the conversation, and helping others understand mental illness better, leading to more acceptance in society. They must take care of themselves and their mental well-being as it is important for them to grow up into happy women, ready to lead the future.
Good mental health is vital to girls’ lives and the health of our world. Supporting them takes all of us – parents, schools, communities, and organizations involved in this matter. We need to work together to support young women and advocate on their behalf. The future generations are counting on us.
Read part 2 (The Importance of Mental Health in Women’s Sports) of the Series on Mental Health and Girls/Women