why 14-year-old girls like me have mental health problems

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News that the mental health of girls starts to decline sharply when they turn 14 is in the news today, and I can’t say I’m surprised. A two-year study by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has found that girls’ mental wellbeing suffers much more than boys’ when they become […]

News that the mental health of girls starts to decline sharply when they turn 14 is in the news today, and I can’t say I’m surprised.

A two-year study by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust has found that girls’ mental wellbeing suffers much more than boys’ when they become teenagers, for reasons including more time spent on social media and a lack of exercise.

I turned 14 during the first lockdown and I definitely think my mental health has suffered since that time – not because of the pandemic specifically, but because of things that have occurred as a result of it.

We all spend far more time on social media than we did before and most of my friends and I have body image issues as a result of that.

Everyone is worried about being underweight or overweight, about having a bigger bum or boobs, about living up to the social beauty standards that you see on TikTok and Instagram.  

There’s a lot of advice on how to achieve those ideals on these channels as well, which can be confusing. I’m lucky because my mum told me about the dangers of restrictive diets when I was quite young, but I’ve got friends who try to limit their calories, and others who have used the various 14-day isolation periods as an opportunity to try to reinvent themselves, with 1,000 squats a day and things like that.

I think some of their parents don’t help either – I have one friend with a really poor body image, whose mum promised her an iPhone 11 if she lost weight, and another who dyed her hair because her mum said it would look better darker. I went through a bit of a phase of wishing that my body was different – curvier, mostly – but I’m kind of okay with it now.  

In some ways, lockdown has been quite good for my confidence, because it’s allowed me to experiment with my looks – with my make-up and hair and clothes – in a way that I wouldn’t really want to do at school, because I hate everyone feeling that they can comment; it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I don’t like being labelled with gender-specific adjectives, either – like ‘pretty’, I don’t necessarily want to be pretty, what’s wrong with just attractive? Although if I really could choose how I’d look, I’d love to be the sort of person who other people look at and think “I’d love to look like that.”  

I’m less active than I used to be before the pandemic, but it’s really hard to get motivated. Even just getting out of bed makes me feel quite tired at the moment.

Getting ready in the morning seems to take all my energy and then I don’t feel like I can do anything else. It’s not as if my diet’s bad – we have healthy food at home and my parents cook me proper meals.

My mum says that she notices a difference in me and my mood after I’ve done some exercise, but I don’t know. I do feel better after we’ve been for a walk, but I never really feel like I want to go.  

I loved the snow the other day. Everything looked brighter; not just the dull grey world that’s been the same for so long. When things look nice, it makes me happy.    

School has been really hard in the last year. I find it hard to motivate myself to work when everything is online and then I worry about falling behind and then I get really anxious.

Some people perform well under stress, I guess, but I just find that it demotivates me further. I feel like I’m under pressure, as well – my mum did well at school, and I know that she wants me to as well.

I worry about my future – I don’t want to mess up; I want to go to university and have a good life.    

The biggest issue right now is that I feel like I’m missing out on an important part of my life. I should be hanging out with my friends after school and having sleepovers. The only way I can see anyone is at the park, one to one. It’s cold and dark; I’d much rather be able to bring them back to my house or go over to theirs.  

My parents do understand that it’s important for me to see my friends though, so they do let me go, as long as I answer my phone and am home on time.  

I’m with my family way more than I usually would be at this age; my mum’s fine but I find my dad really annoying – I can’t really explain why.

I get on with my siblings pretty well, but we do wind each other up a bit. My parents want us to all spend time together in the evenings, but that’s when all of my friends are on FaceTime, so I feel like I’m missing out.  

It’s hard to keep a balance between what everyone wants, but I know that I’m lucky to live in a nice house. I do feel secure, and I’m glad we don’t have any money worries.  

I tell my mum everything that happens, but I don’t tell her everything I’m feeling. I don’t tell anyone, really – I’m usually the one listening to my friends. Some of them have really awful situations at home with their parents – especially since the beginning of the pandemic, because the adults are all so stressed.

Also my mum has a history of anxiety and depression, so I worry that she’ll relapse, and I worry that I’ll do something to contribute to that.  

Recently I self-harmed when I was feeling angry and upset. It was just the one time and I tried to keep it hidden but my mum saw; we talked about it and she’s arranged for me to speak to someone professionally. We’ve only had a couple of sessions so far, but I think it’s helping.

I don’t know whether I have anger issues, but a lot of things make me feel angry. Sometimes I wonder whether I explode about small things because the big things are too much to think about.

Interview by Sarah Rodrigues

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