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Report shows stark growing divide between girls’ and boys’ social and emotional wellbeing

New study suggests the mental health of girls is “at a precipice” with tens of thousands now hiding signs of deep distress from their teachers and parents.

Data, captured by education company STEER Education, working in partnership with the charity Minds Ahead, analysed online responses at least twice a year, and mostly every term, from students in 92 state secondary schools before the start of the pandemic and December 2021.

The findings suggest girls aged 11 are now 30% more likely to suffer from poor mental health than boys of the same age. By the time girls reach 18, they are now more than twice as likely to experience poor mental health than boys of the same age.

The report also suggests that girls go to great lengths to conceal signs of distress making it hard for teachers and parents to identify problems and provide help.

The pandemic appears to have affected girls’ mental health much more severely than boys’ – girls are now 33% more likely to experience poor mental health than those the same age as them before the pandemic. In contrast, boys are 12% more likely to do so. Girls’ mental health is most at risk between the ages of 14 and 18, the data shows.

However, compared to 2018, both boys and girls are now 40% less trusting of others, 25% less likely to take risks and 25% less able to choose an appropriate and measured response to life’s everyday challenges.

Simon Antwis, STEER Education’s Senior Education Consultant and a former headteacher and school inspector, said “Schools are understandably deeply worried by the growing numbers of students with poor mental health. This report on the current state of young people’s mental health shows that we should be particularly alarmed by the state of girls’ mental health in secondary schools – it is at a precipice and the pandemic has exacerbated a worrying trend we have seen now for many years.

“The growing gulf between boys’ and girls’ mental health looks to be one of the long-lasting effects of the pandemic, with recovery from school closures taking a long time.

“But perhaps particularly concerning is the number of girls who are now keeping their worries and fears to themselves, making it much more difficult for their teachers to identify them as vulnerable and in need of support.”

Reda the full report here.