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Mental health problems among girls and young women go beyond social media and body image

Mental health problems among girls and young women go beyond social media and body image

Most discussions regarding mental health concerns among girls and young women tend to focus on problematic social media use, body image issues and school-related problems. Although these are common issues affecting the mental health of this section of the population, the risk of other issues cannot be overlooked. Some of the defining moments of 2017 involved the countless stories of sexual abuse/assault and the #MeToo movement. Women who survived incidents of sexual abuse were considered the hidden face of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sexual harassment is not restricted to the workplace or the community/society – increasing instances of sexual misconduct, assaults and rape are being reported from elementary, middle and high schools. Many cases go unreported, while others are passed off as bullying/hazing or “locker room talk.” Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse and violence. Past research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showed that between 1994 and 2010, females aged between 18 and 34 years generally experienced higher rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) than women from other age groups.

Although mental disorders strike women across age groups, current trends highlight that adolescent girls and young women may be more vulnerable. Recent data showed that the suicide rate for adolescent females aged 15-19 years doubled in 2015 from what they were in 2007; with 2015 recording the highest suicide rate in 40 years. Research published in December 2017 highlighted that the early onset of puberty in girls was also linked with a higher rate of depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior in early/middle adulthood.

Mental health issues under special circumstances

Past research showed that trauma and abuse frequently resulted in girls entering the juvenile justice (JJ) system. Such girls had experienced nearly twice the rate of complex trauma – five or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – than their male peers. Insufficient medical and mental health services in detention increased the risk of girls’ re-traumatization. Three-quarter females in the JJ system met the criteria of at least one mental disorder, compared to two-third males.

Race and ethnicity also influence the risk of traumatic incidents. Children of color have a higher likelihood of experiencing childhood maltreatment, especially domestic violence. Further they had a significantly lower likelihood of receiving treatment for trauma, leading to disproportionately high rates of post-traumatic stress. A previous study showed that despite a high prevalence of depression and suicidal behaviors among young Asian-American women, their use of mental health services was proportionately lower, possibly due to “the influence of Asian family and community stigma” and insufficient culturally-suitable mental health interventions.

Youngsters in high-poverty neighborhoods suffer from a range of emotional issues. In a surprising finding, a past study showed that a housing mobility program designed to move families out of impoverished areas into less disadvantaged neighborhoods (with lower poverty, crime rates) affected boys and girls very differently. While such rehabilitation resulted in a substantial increase in depression, PTSD and conduct disorder among boys, it led to an “equally massive” reduction in depression and conduct disorder among girls, compared to their peers who did not participate in the program.

Meeting mental health needs of girls and young women

Past research highlighted that despite a higher prevalence of major depressive episodes (MDEs) in adolescents (ages 12-17) and young adults (ages 18-25), there was “little change in mental health treatments,” translating into a higher number of young people with untreated depression. Traumatized girls and young women often used coping mechanisms like self-harm, misuse of drugs and alcohol, or both. This worsened the underlying mental illnesses and exposed women to a higher risk of abuse/exploitation, homelessness and poverty.

There is an urgent need to address the mental health needs of girls and young women, with particular focus on the psychological impact of violence, abuse and trauma. Providing early and appropriate mental health support services in schools and communities can address the unmet needs of this population.

Any treatment for mental disorders must be customized to suit the needs of men and women differently. Recover Mental Health experts can help you locate the best rehab for women offering evidence-based treatment. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-593-2339 or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best women’s rehab centers for mental health disorders in your vicinity.

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