Attention is increasingly being paid to mental health issues in young men. With that comes a risk we ignore 50 per cent of the problemby Mark Brown / January 31, 2018 / Leave a comment
In 2018, there will be more discussion of mental illness than ever before. The mental health of young people is worsening—prevention and treatment are failing to keep pace. 10 per cent of young people aged 5-16 now have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition, according to Public Health England.
A fairly mainstream argument, but one that has most taken root on the “alt-right,” is that young men are most at risk in the modern world because suicide rates are higher for young men than young women. In the UK in 2015, 174 young people aged 15-19 died by suicide: 126 were male, 46 were female.
But despite the upsetting and unsettling fact that men are more likely to die by suicide, it is young women who are more likely to live with common mental health problems. The statistics on this point are deeply troubling.
A recent report by The Mental Health Foundation states that young women are three times more likely to experience common yet debilitating mental health problems—such as depression an anxiety—than men. It starts early and is getting worse. According to NHS data obtained by the Guardian in September 2017, hospital admissions for self-harm in girls under 17 has risen by 68 per cent over the last decade. The rise for boys was lower at 26 per cent. Admissions of girls under 17 who had self-poisoned rose by 50 per cent over the same period.
There is a stereotype that women find it easier to discuss their emotions than young men, and that this is an important lifeline. Maybe so—but clearly it is not sufficient. Young women are three times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, with over 12 per cent screening positively for symptoms; and three times more likely to suffer from eating disorders.
The risk is even higher for young women who aren’t white, are poor, who are not straight or who are trans. The Health Foundation report suggests abuse and violence, social media and pornography, and worsening economic conditions have created circumstances that have a particularly adverse impact on the mental health of young women. While men traditionally find it more difficult to seek help for their mental health, which may skew prevalence data for adults, mental illness in young people is more often detected when family, carers, schools or colleges seek help on their behalf, meaning the overall patterns in the data should be taken seriously.
According to Public Health England 75 per cent of people with lifetime mental illness have their first experience of mental ill-health before the age of 24. Contrary to popular belief there are number of people who don’t just “grow out of it.”
Theresa May has been vocal in her commitment to reforming mental health care for young people, yet the government’s green paper, “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision,” in the words of the Mental Health Foundation’s Amy Pollard “folds the mental health of young women and girls almost entirely within the broader envelope of ‘children and young people,’ and makes no new financial commitments to specifically support women and girls.”
Accepting that girls and young women have different experiences to boys and young men involves looking at gender inequality. This is of course fraught territory. The global website for International Men’s Day has previously advised those observing the day in 2017 to prepare by watching Cassie Jaye’s 2016 documentary The Red Pill. The documentary uses men’s suicides as a trump card to argue it is men, not women, who are suffering in a modern era, where “things have gone too far” and women, via feminism, have stolen resources that should go to men.
But mental health is not a zero sum game. It is true that young men are suffering. But young women are suffering too, in a world that still devalues their experiences. For young women and girls growing up, struggling against the odds to find their way, the idea that their happiness, wellbeing and security deprives men of opportunities for achieving similar is a constant threatening background noise.
When the mental health needs of young women and girls cannot be addressed for fear of attracting the ire of those who see a feminist conspiracy at every turn, we make more powerful the very factors that create those needs in the first place.