Illustration: Getty Images


A quarter of women aged 16 to 24 have some form of mental-health problem

Illustration: Getty Images

Mental-health issues of all types in young women are increasing, creating a mental-health gender gap

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By Amy Jones on

A new NHS study has shown that young women in England are suffering from more mental-health issues than ever before. Twenty-eight per cent of women between the ages of 16 to 24 have a mental-health condition of some sort. Almost 20 per cent self-harm and 25 per cent have self-harmed at some point in their young lives. The number of young women who screened positive for PTSD has trebled in the past nine years, going from 4.2 per cent in 2007 to 12.6 per cent now.

To put that in perspective, next time you’re in a busy Topshop at 2pm on a Saturday have a quick glance at the faces rifling through the racks. Statistically, one in four of those women has, at some point, felt so depressed or anxious or otherwise terrible that they’ve deliberately hurt themselves. One in five of them has done it recently. Statistically, one in eight of those women has vivid flashbacks or nightmares or shakes and sweats, and feels sick every time they’re reminded of a past trauma, such as a rape or assault. 

Statistically, a quarter of those young women – women who are going through exams and moving out for the first time and falling in love and becoming the adults they’ll be for the rest of their lives – are doing so while coping with anxiety, depression, panic disorder, phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. A quarter of them.

Mental health is a huge problem for men as well, but the number of young men with mental-health issues appears to be remaining fairly stagnant, while it’s climbing in young women. Young women are also presenting with mental-health issues in much higher numbers: they are three times more likely than young men to have PTSD, more than twice as likely to self-harm and more likely to have a mental-health disorder full stop. There is important work to be done in tackling the stigma around mental health for men, but Sally McManus, lead researcher in the survey, stated that: “The gender gap in mental illness had become most pronounced in young people and there is evidence that this gap has widened in recent years.”

You know what does help? Proper support from medical professionals. I could have been one of the women in this study

Sarah Brennan, CEO of Young Minds, believes that this gap is because of how young men and women react differently to troubling events. “Young men tend to externalise pressure – for instance by being angry or violent – while young women are more likely to internalise their feelings, and take them out on themselves, for example by cutting or through eating disorders.”

There are a few theories on why these numbers are growing. One theory is that it’s down to the ubiquity of social media. Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that, “There are some studies that have found those who spend time on the internet or using social media are more likely to [have] depression, but correlation doesn’t imply causality.” Social media has become a lazy way to explain all of the world’s ills, but if you’ve already got a disposition towards mental-health issues, then things like cyberbullying, revenge porn and constant pressure from all sides to be perfect won’t be helping. 

You know what does help? Proper support from medical professionals. I could have been one of the women in this study. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 22, although, looking back, I think it started when I was about 13 and was never picked up on. A course of CBT and a few months of anti-depressants did wonders for me and I was able to start showering and leaving the house without having panic attacks again. If I hadn’t had that help, I dread to think where I’d be and what I would have done to myself.

Millennials get a hard time of it. Barely a day goes by when there isn’t a new study declaring that we’re vain, stupid, entitled, that we have no common sense and we can’t forge relationships and we aren’t saving enough or doing enough and that we can’t cope with the world. But this study shows that, for a huge number of us, we really can’t cope with the world, at least not on our own, and it’s not because we’re lazy or entitled, but because we’re ill and we need help. Mental health is horribly underfunded and, unless we start doing more research and offering more support, these numbers are only going to go up.


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Illustration: Getty Images
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