Research — 24 August 2016

SOCIAL media is being blamed for a rise in an “epidemic” of teenage psychological distress including depression that a British government study has found now affects one third of middle class teenage girls.

In one of the largest studies ever undertaken involving 30,000 14 to 15 year olds, the wellbeing study by the British Department of Education has sounded the alarm on what experts are saying has been a slow evolving epidemic.

According to the report, one third of middle-class girls were now suffering anxiety or depression and were twice as likely to suffer some form of psychological distress than boys, with the phenomenon growing in the 10 years to 2014.

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It was found the more affluent and better educated the families, the more pronounced the symptoms were than those from less advantaged backgrounds.

The study, involving intensive interviews, found 37 per cent of teenage girls had three or more symptoms of “psychological distress” including feeling unhappy or worthless, compared to 15 per cent of boys, where instances of depression had risen 10 per cent in girls but dropped for boys.

“While girls were already displaying greater levels of psychological distress than boys in 2005, it is striking that their situation worsened between 2005-14,” authors wrote.

The study found since 2005, teenagers were less likely to take risks, teen pregnancy figures had dropped as had the numbers of those trying or doing drugs and alcohol.

But they were feeling other schoolyard pressures that was leading to the startling figures.

Analysts and experts in the field have pointed to the proliferation of social media in the last decade as contributing to many facing more school and peer pressure, being unable to “switch off” with the constant use and accessibility of social technology, making them more insecure and losing basic confidences and feelings of being in control.

Economic factors and fears of the future also made teens worry more than before about their destiny, the fear more pronounced in households where at least one parent was out of work.

British mental health charity Sane’s chief executive Majorie Wallace said the issue was a concern for all schools.

“There definitely does seem to be something happening — it’s a slow- growing epidemic,” she told The Times newspaper.

“Over the period covered by the report we have seen a very disturbing change in admissions to hospital for self-harm in under-16s that have gone up by 52 per cent.”

This article first appeared on ‘News.com.au’ on 23 August 2016.

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