Finding time to listen to young girls is vital in reducing the risk of female students developing emotional issues, according to a leading mental health and emotional well-being adviser.
Responding to new research from University College London, Dr Pooky Knightsmith, an adviser for the PSHE Association, says that listening to young girls is crucial.
“Many young people talk about never feeling heard,” she explains. “Just five minutes of being listened to can be transformative.”
The survey revealed that emotional problems in girls aged 11-13 had increased by 55 per cent between 2009 and 2014. This increase is particularly striking as the number of boys experiencing the same problems has not changed significantly.
“Adolescent mental health problems have a lasting impact on later health outcomes, so we felt it was important to get an up-to-date picture,” says lead author Dr Elian Fink. “Recent societal changes, such as an increased focus on academic outcomes and a changing consumer and media culture, may be placing a greater burden on girls’ mental health.
“What our findings really highlight is that more needs to be done to support teachers in identifying and helping young people with mental health problems, particularly emotional problems, which are likely to fly under the radar in the classroom.”
Fink and her fellow researchers stress the need for schools to have access to the right resources. They recommend the online Youth Wellbeing Directory and free training materials produced by MindEd and YoungMinds.
Knightsmith suggests some signs that teachers should look out for:
Changes in personality and appearance
This can be especially noticeable after school holidays. A girl may carry herself differently and seem very low, she might have lost or gained weight or stopped taking care of her appearance.
Low self-esteem and feelings of failure
A girl may never have a good thing to say about herself, no matter how highly she achieves. She may also talk about being stupid, ugly or fat.
Change in approach to schoolwork
For some girls, this will be a fall in grades; it is most worrying when the pupil does not seem to care about the change. Others may work harder than ever, taking an obsessional approach to schoolwork and constantly aiming for perfection.
Knightsmith adds that once a teacher has identified the signs, they should speak to a member of staff who leads on well-being or safeguarding − but that a listening ear is often the most important support to offer a young person who is facing an emotional wellbeing issue.