When we catch a cold or suffer an injury, most of us don’t hesitate to seek care. And many of us get annual physicals so physicians can “check up” on our bodies. Yet mental health rarely gets acknowledged or given attention. In fact, the stigma associated with mental illness means symptoms often get ignored. But mental health is just as important as physical health. For girls, it can be especially tough to recognize or admit they need help and to access the support they need to heal.
The pressure to please and succeed, as well as prevalent stereotypes, discrimination, trauma, and violence, make growing up as a girl tough, especially for girls from low-income communities, who are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem. Today, one in five teens reports suffering from a mental illness. For girls, rates are on the rise. In fact, the rate of girls committing suicide has tripled in the past 15 years.
Girls today are facing a mental health crisis. Unfortunately, far too many do not feel comfortable asking for help because of the stigma, or they do not have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Not addressing mental health issues can have serious and life-long consequences. Girls with unaddressed mental health problems may withdraw from classes and activities, have trouble in school, engage in unhealthy relationships, and self harm, among other things.
Supporting girls’ mental health boosts their ability to lead healthy, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. Girls Inc. provides girls with a sisterhood of support, long-lasting mentoring relationships, and programs and experiences that foster positive mental health. Girls find a safe space to talk about their experiences and feelings, and realize they are not alone. They find the resources and support to deal with self esteem and body image issues, personal relationships, and challenges at school and at home.
The #MeToo movement has highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in the lives of women and girls. Sadly, one in four girls in the U.S. will experience some kind of sexual victimization before she turns 18. Sexual violence has an especially profound impact on the mental health of survivors. Young women who experience sexual violence are at high risk for depression and anxiety, alcohol and drug use, and risky behavior.
We must provide girls with the health services and support they need most. We must also ensure policies are in place that increase their opportunity to succeed. Schools play an important role in identifying youth experiencing mental health issues or trouble at home. That means educators need training on identifying signs of trauma and the impact of trauma on student behavior and learning, and disciplinary policies must take into account and address the underlying causes of a student’s behavior.
Girls Inc. Week 2018 is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of mental health and eradicating the stigma around mental illness. Girls Inc. affiliates around the U.S. and Canada will be engaging their girls in activities and discussions about mental health, messaging about it on social media, and reaching out to encourage schools in their area to adopt trauma-informed practices.
Good mental health is critical to a girl’s future trajectory and the future health of our nation. Supporting our youth takes all of us — parents, schools, community leaders, and youth-serving organizations. Let’s work together to support girls and advocate on their behalf. The next generation is counting on us.