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Poverty and social media drive mental health problems that make ‘teenage girls significantly more likely to self-harm than boys’

Poverty and social media are key factors in mental health problems that make teenage girls significantly more likely to self-harm than boys, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Warwick found gender inequality, sexism and body image pressures are other driving factors behind the trend.

The study, which polled more than 11,000 14-year-olds, found girls tend to spend more time on social media than boys.

While 15 per cent of all surveyed said they had self-harmed in the last year, twice as many girls reported having done so.

Dimitra Hartas, the report’s lead author, said: “Wider inequality and gender inequality is likely to have a negative impact on how resources, as well as opportunities, are distributed. The current distribution helps young men more than girls.

 “Social media can also make girls more competitive and feel inadequate. It can create the idea other people have wonderful or better lives. There is also the issue of the early sexualization of girls and the notion of the perfect body. 

“This study is different because it looks at the wide variety of ways girls are experiencing mental health problems. It is not only moods but also self-worth, self-image and satisfaction with life.

“Current policy places the onus to resolve inequality on individuals, such as young people, teachers and parents. Young people respond by focusing more on the self and less on the societal structures likely to promote mental ill-health. Girls and young women tend to internalise systemic problems and blame themselves.”

Dr Hartas, of the University of Warwick’s Centre for Education Studies, argued it was not enough for the emphasis just to be on schools and teachers to tackle mental health problems.

She called for “wider systemic changes” in society to address gender inequality and poverty given they are the two main “driving interconnecting factors” behind teenage girls experiencing worse mental health issues.

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Public health and education strategies must acknowledge the “pernicious consequences” of gender inequity and poverty on the wellbeing of young people, she said.

Researchers said 14-year-old girls in the UK are at greatest risk of self-harming among those in mid-adolescence, which spans from the age of 10 to 14.

Dr Hartas said she had chosen to keep the focus on this age group because they are between childhood and adulthood and different “options and trajectories” are still open to them.

The study, published in journal Research Papers in Education, found teenagers from families earning the least were 48 per cent more likely to report low life satisfaction than those from the richest backgrounds.

Almost twice as many girls as boys polled felt “completely unhappy” and girls were more than three times more likely than boys to say they had a low perception of their own value – including poor self-image.

Source: Independent