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Fear and self-loathing;Friday's child

Reva Klein on the woes of the worrier

Anna is clever, articulate, attractive, has a core of good friends and comes from a supportive family of achievers. But ask her if she's happy and she looks at you, incredulous. What's there to be happy about?

She's not depressed. But like the cartoon character Letty Chubb in Ros Asquith's Teenage Worrier books, there's no issue too small - or too big - for Anna to worry about. The size of her nosebumwardrobebank account takes up as much emotional space as her GCSEs.

A stiff neck in the morning is never a minor muscular problem - it's suspected meningitis. The fact that two of her friends have boyfriends, but she doesn't, means she must be repulsive to the opposite sex. When her parents argue, she lies awake contemplating divorce and custody battles - if her life isn't cruelly cut short by global chemical warfare.

Ask her why she frets so much and she'll tell you it's the pressure she's under to do well at school. Her older sister got straight As for her GCSEs and Anna is convinced anything less would mean the end of her life.

But even more acute is the pressure to look perfect. Anna has scrutinised every inch of her face and body for many, many hours over the past few years and has concluded she's a write-off. When she looks in the mirror, she doesn't see her slimness but instead focuses on the roundness of her hips. It's the same with her face. She has eyes only for her imperfections and believes she's ugly, despite everyone telling her the opposite.

For a few months, she took up smoking in a bid to compensate for her obese hideousness by being cool and a bit bad. Mercifully, the habit was nipped in the butt when her mum caught wind of it. And her aspirant drinking career, embarked on because it helped her feel happy to begin with, was just as short because she felt so awful afterwards. So now she's starting to "puff" dope because it allows her to forget all her worries and loosen up. So far, its been okay - except that now she's worried about getting lung cancer and eating too much when she's stoned and forgetting not only her worries but everything else.

According to a recently published survey of 30,000 pupils by Exeter University's schools health education unit, Anna is like many 16-year-old girls who worry about everything, and whose anxieties lead them into smoking, alcohol and drugs.

Girls in the late 1990s may appear more socially confident and goal-oriented than ever, but the emotional price they're paying, usually silently, is too high for many. Luckily, the support of Anna's parents, sister and friends should help her see reality and prevent her from getting submerged in her anxieties. But not all girls are as lucky.

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