Mental health: Girls' self-esteem drops sharply at 14, report finds

Last updated at 15:23
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A report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and The Prince's Trust, looking at the mental health and wellbeing of young people, reveals how social media, relationships, and background play a big role in how young people feel.

The research, which focused on the personal experiences of 11, 14 and 17 year-olds in England, showed that the wellbeing of all young people declines by the end of their teenage years, but this decline is much greater for girls and by the age of 14 girls' wellbeing and self-esteem falls dramatically.

The EPI also highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to increase existing mental health and wellbeing problems among young people and that social isolation risks "causing long-term damage to the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of young people."

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What else did the report find?

The report found that by the end of primary school, girls and boys have similar levels of wellbeing and as they move into secondary school the wellbeing and self-esteem of boys and girls begins to drop.

However, girls see a more significant drop in their wellbeing and self-esteem at 14 and at 17.

Feelings of depression rise among both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 17 but increase more for girls. National estimates show that one in six young people now have a probable mental illness - up from one in nine.

While the majority of young people remain happy with their lives as they enter secondary school, the proportion of girls who are unhappy rises.

Researchers say that one main factor for this fall in happiness is personal appearance. Between the ages of 11 and 14, the amount of girls who feel unhappy about their appearance almost doubles from around one in seven (15%) to around one in three (29%).

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Why is this happening?

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There are several factors that impact the mental health and wellbeing of young people. They include:

Social media

It might be the place where you catch up with your favourite TikToker or Instagram influencer, but research shows that being on social media for too long can negatively impact girls' and boys' wellbeing and self-esteem.

Frequent use of social media can harm your sleep, negatively change the way you think about the way you look, and increase feelings of loneliness.

Learn about the impact of social media on your wellbeing here.

Lack of exercise

Physical exercise increases young people's wellbeing and self-esteem and can reduce feelings of depression, especially for boys at age 14.

However, sports clubs have been postponed due to lockdown and school closures, which researchers say will have a negative impact on young people's mental health and wellbeing.

Try to stay active during lockdown with home workouts, a walk outside, or playing in your garden.

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Being bullied

Being bullied in childhood has strong and lasting effects on both boys' and girls' mental and emotional health into their teenage years. The more often a child was bullied in childhood, the higher their risk of low wellbeing by age 14.

Read this for advice on what to do if you or someone you know is being bullied.

Family income

There is a link between family income and young people's mental health.

Children from low-income families are more likely to have lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem, and more feelings of depression. The coronavirus pandemic has increased existing social inequalities, putting more pressure on young people's mental health.

Other factors which have an impact on young people's mental health include: arguing with parents; being placed in the bottom set in primary school; poor health of a young person's mother; and girls feeling unsafe in their neighbourhood.

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  • tbh I am feeling so down at the moment- I can't do my school work because I have lost my confidence and I am just finding it RLY hard. And I ma not sleeping well because of it so my mental health is not amazing at the moment.
    Message from Newsround

    We're sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult time. It could really help to talk to someone about how you are feeling. You can confide in any trusted adult such as a parent, relative or teacher, but if there is no one you feel you can speak to, you can call Childline on 0800 11 11 Calls are free, confidential and will not show up on any bill. You can also visit the Childline website at, and there is a free Childline app you can download called For Me.

    Do try to speak to someone as soon as possible. You might be surprised to find out how much better you feel when you share your feelings.