Most girls say exams are top cause of stress

Girls are more unhappy than they were 10 years ago – but they are more open to talking about mental health, a poll shows

Roger Baird

More than two-thirds of girls and young women say exams are the biggest cause of stress

More than two-thirds of girls and young women say exams are the biggest cause of stress in their lives, according to a new report.

Sixty-nine per cent of girls and women between the ages of 11 and 21 said exams and tests were their “main cause of stress” in a lifestyle survey conducted by Girlguiding.

Girlguiding’s annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey - which is now in its tenth year - surveyed just under 2,000 people. 

It found that this age group had become more troubled than they were in 2009, when the report first started.

The survey found that only 25 per cent of girls and young women aged between 7 and 21 considered themselves to be “very happy”, down from 41 per cent a decade ago, with this group worried by mental health issues, body confidence, online pressures and gender stereotypes.

The survey calls itself “a snapshot of what it is like to be a girl and young woman in the modern world”.

Social media 'gives girls stress'

As many as 59 per cent of girls and young women between 11 and 21 said pressure from social media was another “main cause of stress”, with girls experiencing body confidence and other concerns online.

This age group was also much more aware of issues around mental health, with 71 per cent saying they knew a peer who had had a mental health problem - a rise from 62 per cent in 2015.

However, this group said it felt much more able to talk about the issue. In 2015, 57 per cent of girls and young women aged between 11 and 21 said mental health issues were awkward to talk about, but this proportion fell to 46 per cent in this year’s research.

The respondents reported that mental health concerns were also being talked about more in schools, with 50 per cent of girls saying the subject has been discussed in the classroom – up from 44 per cent in 2015.  

Izzy, 17, who took part in the survey said: “The research from the last 10 years doesn’t paint a great picture for girls and young women, but it’s reassuring to see some positive signs. Girls feeling more able to talk more openly about mental health makes me optimistic for the future.”

Girlguiding’s chief guide, Amanda Medler, added: “The message could not be clearer from girls and young women about the seriousness of the issues they’re facing daily and the negative impact on their lives. It’s not good enough that today girls are unhappier and more of them are experiencing problems with their mental health than in previous years.”

Earlier this month education secretary Damian Hinds dismissed fears that tougher GCSEs had damaged the mental health of pupils.

He said: “On exams, there has always been exam pressure. It is, I think, an inevitable thing that if you are going to have examinations of what you have learned at school, that is going to be a period of greater stress for young people than other times.

“Of course, you also in life get times of heightened stress, and one of the things that school days do is help you to prepare for later life.”

His comments came after 90 per cent of headteachers cited in an Association of School and College Leaders survey last month said they believed that GCSE reforms had harmed pupils’ mental health.

Natasha Devon, the government's former mental health champion, accused Mr Hinds of "casually dismissing" headteachers' concerns.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Roger Baird

Latest stories