Thousands of girls as young as 11 in England hiding signs of ‘deep distress’

Thousands of girls as young as 11 are hiding signs of “profound distress” from their parents and teachers, according to an “alarming” report that reveals a “growing chasm” between the mental health of girls and boys.

A record number of children seek access to National Health Service mental health services amid the pandemic as detailed in multiple studies over the last year.

Now, an analysis of data from 15,000 high school students by Steer Education points to a worrying new trend of a widening divide between mental health of girls and boys. Experts fear this could be a lasting result of the Covid crisis.

Online responses from 92 state secondary schools in England From before the pandemic to December 2021, 11-year-old girls were 30% more likely to have mental health problems than boys of the same age. At 18, girls are twice as likely to experience mental health problems as boys.

The number of girls seeking to hide their problems from others has also increased, with 60% of girls doing their best to hide feelings of unhappiness before the pandemic compared to 80% today.

Girls are 33% more likely to experience mental health problems than their pre-pandemic age, while boys are 12% more likely to do so. The report suggests that girls’ mental health is most at risk between the ages of 14 and 18.

Compared to 2018, both boys and girls are 40% less likely to trust others, 25% less likely to take risks, and 25% less able to choose an appropriate response to life’s challenges. Between April 2021 and October 2021, the number of children under the age of 18 needing care for issues ranging from self-harm to eating disorders increased by 77% compared to the same period in 2019.

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Simon Antwis, Senior Education Consultant at Steer Education, said: “Schools are understandably deeply concerned about the growing number of students with mental health problems. We should be particularly alarmed by the state of mental health for girls in secondary schools – it is on a precipice and the pandemic has exacerbated a worrying trend we have seen for many years.

“The widening gulf between the mental health of boys and girls appears to be one of the lasting effects of the pandemic, as recovery from school closures takes a long time. But perhaps particularly worrying is the number of girls who now keep their worries and fears to themselves, making it that much harder for their teachers to identify them as vulnerable and in need of support.”

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