Statistics reveal that mental health issues are at an all-time high among young girls.
Studies found that generalized anxiety, social phobias, and depression are the most common mental illnesses reported in teen girls. Further studies also found that India has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world.
According to recent research, mood disorders and attempts to suicide as well as death by suicide have increased considerably in the past decade. Studies report that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in older teenagers.
While most people see social media as a driver, there is more to this. A shifting cultural trend and wrong lifestyle choices combined with unhealthy food habits are also playing a major role.
5 Reasons Why mental health issues are increasing among young girls
What’s wrong with their sleep cycle?
According to experts, teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep every night. But studies suggest that most teenagers get 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep every night, some even less. Lack of sleep leaves them tired and irked and can even result in severe mood disorders, anxiety, obesity, behavioral disorders, and depression.
As a girl enters her teenage years, her brain and body transform. The stress can disrupt their rest and recovery cycle, and can even result in insomnia. Furthermore, late-night use of mobile, binge-watching series, or chatting on the phone can also result in sleep troubles. Early school and endless assignments also impact their sleep.
Also read: Sleep compensation does not work
Blame it on the phone
Recent research proves that cell phone addiction is one of the prime causes of sleep troubles and mood disorders in teenagers. Today, it is a common sight to witness a group of teenagers standing together without any interaction completely immersed in their phones. While the phone is a medium of communication, it is also a way to avoid face-to-face interactions. This lack of physical communication is also linked to an increased risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
The increased use of cell phones has also resulted in another kind of anxiety. A recent study found that teenagers associate the absence of their phones with anxiety, loneliness, or anger. The same study also reported that girls feel more anxious or lonely than boys without their phones.
Also, read: Kids and phones – you must know these dangers
The social media addiction
Social media addiction is linked to an increase in the risk of depression and anxiety by 13 to 66 percent. The advent of social media has not only reduced face-to-face interactions, but the side effects of social media like cyberbullying, trolling, and comparison, have resulted in emotional and mental troubles.
Studies have found that emotional investment in social media can result in higher levels of anxiety and depression. Research also claimed that social media have increased body image issues and disordered eating. Over 80 percent of teenage girls feel negatively affected by photos on social media. Further, studies have found that young girls who experience cyberbullying are twice as likely to engage in self-harm.
Also read: Social media and behavioral disorders
Diet and lifestyle changes
Over the past few decades, our lifestyles have witnessed tectonic changes. Just a decade ago, in the 90s, teenage years were all about high physical activities, but today physical exercise is very limited. Whether it is studying or tapping the phone, they are glued to the chair. This lethargic behavior affects the secretion of endorphins and serotonin, the feel-good hormones.
Several research has linked this lack of physical exercise with an increased risk of obesity and mental health disorders. To combat weight issues, young teens compromise on their diet, further increasing the risk of mental health issues. There is also an increase in social withdrawal in modern lifestyles which is proven to negatively impact mental health.
Also read: Lifestyle medicine – All you need to know
Harsh parenting or absent parentism
Parenting plays a very crucial role in developing emotional and mental strength among teenagers, especially girls. Discrimination, gender norms, the constant dispute between the parents, sexual abuse, harsh parenting, and socioeconomic problems can take a toll on their mental health.
A study on adolescent mental health found that harsh parenting can increase physical aggression, social aggression, and suicidal ideation. The same study also found positive parenting has a protective effect against depression, anxiety, physical aggression, and social aggression.
Also read: Absent parenting and over parenting- where do you draw the line?
Sexual abuse is the ugly truth
According to UNICEF, 42 percent of girls under the age of 19 experience sexual abuse. This is the official number, but the unofficial numbers are much higher than this. India has the highest number of child sexual abuse cases in the world. Sexual abuse can be any form of sexual violence, molestation, incest, or rape.
Such incidences leave a lasting impression in the minds of young teens, leaving them feeling guilty, weak, fearful, and anxious for life. Studies have also found a strong association between defiling their innocence and leading to mental health issues.
Also read: Love and intimacy
Puberty and the phases of emotional turbulence
Young girls and boys both go through the same phases of mental evolution before puberty. But after puberty, mid-adolescent girls are twice more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorders, anxiety, and other mental health issues. One plausible reason is their mature processing of emotional stimuli.
Another reason for this is the sudden change in their life that comes with puberty. From increased restrictions to gender discrimination, life after puberty suddenly becomes very different for girls. In addition to that is the misinformation they are fed which creates more confusion in their young mind leading to stress and anxiety.
Also read: 5 simple tips for highly sensitive people
How to help young girls handle their mental health issues?
Adolescence is a transformative period in a young girl’s life. It is this phase that develops their social and emotional habits including healthy sleep patterns, physical routine, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and much more. As such, focusing on their mental health is as important as attending to their physical health issues. Here are a few tips that can help –
The teenage years are anyway tough. As such the nagging, scolding, aggressiveness or even frustration from parents can just make their situations worse. They are in a phase of high sensitivity and emotional imbalance. The right way to help them to get past this phase is positive parenting. Words of encouragement, constant motivation, and active engagement with the child in the things they enjoy can make a world of difference for them.
Strong social support
Social support is a strong anchor for all, but teenagers go through a phase of an identity crisis, confusion, and self-doubt. Having a strong friend circle can help in sailing through this phase. However, it is very important to choose one’s friend wisely.
Shift into better lifestyle choices
This is again something that parents have a role to play. Do not just dictate the rules for the child, parents should follow them too. Be it sleeping early or eating healthily. Preaching without practicing will not help!
Regulated use of mobile phones
Cell phones have become an ingrained part of our lives. But it is important to regulate the use of cell phones, especially among young children and teenagers. You can limit their timings and use child protection apps to regulate the content they are exposed to on the internet.
Creating a safe environment
Young girls do not feel safe in an environment where there is constant conflict, unwanted advances by incest, or where communication is not open. Engaging in open communication with the child is very important in order to protect them.
Preaching and Practicing Equality
Gender discrimination in the household can also affect a young girl’s mental health. The best possible way is to preach and practice equality and explain to them why certain things are different for girls and boys.
Proper sex education
Imparting proper sex education in girls is very important in their late teen years. Eradicating confusion and fear can help them gain clarity and improve their social behavior.
Also read: What is the right time for sex education in children
Multiple factors can negatively affect a teenager’s mental health. The more risk factors they are exposed to, the greater the impact on their mental health. As such, having the strong support and presence of parents and friends are crucial pillars in getting through this phase.
Also read: 9 amazing types of intelligence