Stressed out and self-conscious: Are Aussie girls in ‘crisis’?
Newly graduated from Canberra Girls Grammar, 18-year-old Asha Clementi says less pressure should be put on young people, especially young women. Photo: Jamila ToderasAsha Clementi started taking “mental health days” in high school. If you’re wondering why, consider that the Canberra teenager just survived 15 gruelling year 12 exams.
But that wasn’t the worst of it, says Asha.
“I’m burnt out … young people, especially girls, have so much thrown at us,” she explains.
“You have to look amazing, there’s pressure to be social, to get a really high score, to be good at science or languages, and then to buy a house, and just to manage everything at once.
“[We’re] expected to be these perfect young women, these perfect girls.”
Asha said workloads at schools should be reconsidered as student stress levels increase. Photo: Jamila Toderas
She said many of her friends struggled with their mental health throughout school. As a mentor to year 7 students at Canberra Girls Grammar, Asha often found girls as young as 12 in tears.
“They would rush up to me so upset about school and their friends and other stuff, I’d think this type of stress isn’t normal. It’s a crisis [for young people], stress and mental health are so big.”
According to a recent Mission report, young Canberrans are more likely to struggle with stress than the average n teen.
A survey of more than 24,000 young ns aged 15-19 years revealed almost half of respondents in the ACT said coping with stress was a major personal concern. Two thirds of those respondents were girls.
Young n women are also about twice as likely as boys to meet the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness.
Some of the national results of the 2017 youth survey. Photo: Mission
Parenting expert Steve Biddulph said he had spent 30 years focused on boys’ mental health, but now saw the “the decline” of girls as the number one worry in health statistics. Social media and deliberate marketing to pre-teen girls by advertisers had helped create a “perfect storm” for young women, he said.
“They undergo a real loss of confidence in the early teen years and it continues from there,” he said.
“The wonderful gains of the women’s movement are being rolled back, and it’s terrible to see.
“Eight year old girls are dieting, one in 12 young women will now experience an eating disorder. Self harm is very common.”
Asha agreed that “sexist advertising” was part of the problem, but said young people were sick of hearing one-liners of wisdom like “Photoshop is a lie” or “Love yourself” and her personal favourite: “Drink water”.
“Messages are coming at us so quickly and they’re so repetitive, you end up just tuning them out even though they’re really helpful, you just ignore them,” she said.
Mission ‘s ACT director Ben Carblis said the survey results showed more needed to be done to support the mental health of young Canberrans, but the issue also required a coordinated national response.
“We’re seeing an increased number of young people suffering from mental health issues and there’s worrying trends in youth homelessness and rough sleeping as well here where services are seeing more demand,” he said.
More young Canberrans listed their mental health as a barrier to achieving their study and work goals than the national average and, while a majority said they felt happy overall with their lives, the number of ACT teens who said they felt “very sad” was more than double the average.
Nationally, mental health topped the list of issues young people think are most important for – the first time in the survey’s 16-year-long history. Six out of ten n girls listed stress as a major concern compared to about a quarter of boys.
Young men were more likely to list drugs and alcohol as a personal concern than girls, and about a third of all respondents said they were extremely concerned or very concerned about body image.
For Black Dog Institute student presenter Kate Corcoran, the panic attacks began in Year 9.
But it would take another two years for her to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety, after finally seeking help through her GP.
She said she was scared seeing a psychologist would ruin her job prospects.
Ms Corcoran now visits Canberra schools presenting research from Black Dog to make sure other kids don’t go through the same thing.
“I think the generation that’s coming through now has it a lot [tougher] than my generation; there’s a lot more exposure to the negative parts of social media,” she said.
“And boys might not be feeling quite the same body pressures, but that anxiety of social media is there for them as well.”
Senior Manager at Capital Health Network Lauren Anthes said the ACT service was looking to expand its programs for young people with both mild and more serious mental health concerns in the next six months in order to keep up with growing demand.
Young Canberrans looking to access the network’s free Next Step program face a two to three week wait to see a psychologist. After the first assessment, Ms Anthes said sessions became weekly, helping provide more intensive interventions than the standard Medicare plan, but those under 18 years of age weren’t eligible.
“We’d like to open it up and we’d also like to make it more flexible so you don’t have to be referred by your GP straight away, because we know a lot of young people are coming through school counsellors or headspace or uni,” she said.
Ms Anthe said the network was also aware of a shortage in youth mental heath services throughout Canberra’s south, and for children under 12.
While Asha said her own teachers were supportive, she said more needed to be done in schools to reduce student stress, including allowing mental health days.
“If it’s just once or twice a term, you shouldn’t have to make up an excuse or say you’re sick. Sometimes you just need a break.”
On Monday, the federal government announced a $100 million funding boost for school mental health programs and headspace centres across the country.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, MensLine on 1300 789 978 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.
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