Adults out of touch with mental health pressures facing UK girls today: new Girlguiding research

Girlguiding Scotland is calling for decision-makers to listen to girls and help improve their lives as new research from Girlguiding released today (Monday 24 August 2015) shows their mental wellbeing is under threat – yet out of touch adults are failing to recognise the new pressures they face.

The call comes from Scotland’s leading charity for girls and young women as major new research from the UK charity Girlguiding shows girls’ mental health worries start from as young as seven and escalate as they get older, with two in five girls aged 11 to 21 needing to seek help with mental health concerns.

Self-harming tops a list of health concerns for UK girls aged 11-21 in the 2015 research, closely followed by smoking, mental illness, depression and anorexia. In 2010, girls’ top three health concerns were binge drinking, smoking and drug abuse.

But the results show adults too often fail to keep pace with new threats to girls’ wellbeing. While girls aged 13 – 21 say mental health issues, cyber-bullying and getting a job are the top overall concerns facing young people today, they say their parents’ biggest fears for them remain drug use, alcohol and smoking. And the overwhelming majority of girls aged 11 to 21 (82 per cent) say adults don’t recognise the pressure they are under.

Girls are also failing to get adequate support with their mental health. Fewer than half of girls aged 11 to 16 say they have talked about mental health during lessons at school (44 per cent). Just over half feel they don’t know enough about mental health problems amongst young people (53 per cent), and that they would like to know more about where to get help and support for mental health issues (52 per cent).

The report also shows that worries over sexual harassment and low body confidence are taking their toll on girls’ wellbeing. Three quarters of girls aged 11 to 21 (75 per cent) say anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment negatively affects their lives in some way – from what they wear and where they go to how they feel about their bodies. And in the last week, two in five girls aged 11 to 21 have had a demeaning comment made to them about the way they look (39 per cent).

The findings will be published next month in Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2015 – the largest survey of its kind into the views and opinions of UK girls.

The report sets out the extent of girls’ health and wellbeing concerns – which have increased dramatically over the last five years – as girls continue to battle a maelstrom of pressures in their daily lives. Key findings include:

  • 62 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 know a girl their age who has experienced a mental health problem
  • Almost half of girls aged 17 to 21 (46 per cent) have personally needed help with their mental health
  • 83 per cent of seven to 10 year olds have felt ‘sad or down’
  • One in five girls aged 9 to 10 say how they look is the thing that makes them feel most sad or down.
  • Nearly three in five girls aged 11 to 21 say that mental health is awkward to talk about (57 per cent), rising to around two in three amongst 17 to 21 year olds (66 per cent).

Isla Whateley, 18, a Girlguiding Scotland member from Glasgow and Girlguiding ‘Advocate’ who speaks out about the issues that matter to girls, said:

“Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey has once again shown us what life is really like for girls in the UK today – and it’s worrying to see that so many girls are struggling.

“These findings show that adults often don’t understand the pressures girls face – so can’t help them get the information and support they need to tackle them.

“And sadly, everyday sexism continues to be a serious issue for girls and young women which is taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

“We need to decision-makers to listen to girls’ concerns and work together to help improve their lives.”

Girlguiding Scotland’s Chief Commissioner, Sue Walker, said: “As the leading charity for girls and young women in Scotland, we work hard to support girls’ well-being.

“Through guiding girls and young women have a place where they can be themselves, develop their confidence and discuss sensitive issues in a safe and supported environment.

“The Scottish Government’s National Youth Work Strategy has already recognised the role of organisations like ours in supporting young people’s wellbeing and resilience.

“Together we need to listen to girls, look at the pressures they’re facing and find out how they can be alleviated.”


Notes to editor:

  1. For images and footage including the Girls’ Attitudes 2015 video, or to arrange interviews with Girlguiding Scotland’s young members or volunteers, please contact the Girlguiding Scotland Press Office.
  2. Girls’ Attitudes 2015 is a survey of 1,574 girls and young women aged between seven and 21 who were asked about their attitudes on a range of issues from health and well-being to relationships and careers. The full report will be published in September 2015.
  3. A panel of young women from within Girlguiding works with the project team to develop the survey and to comment on its findings. Those surveyed form a representative sample across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and are not restricted to those involved in guiding.
  4. Research was conducted by leading research specialists on children and young people Childwise and fieldwork took place from March to May 2015.
  5. The questionnaire was adapted to be suitable for different age groups (7-11, 11-16, 16-21), with some core questions asked of all groups.
  6. Girlguiding Scotland is Scotland’s leading charity for girls and young women, with 50,000 young members. We build girls’ confidence and raise their aspirations. We give them the chance to discover their full potential and encourage them to be a powerful force for good. We give them a space to have fun. Find out more at
  7. Girlguiding is the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, with 559,996 members. Thanks to the dedication and support of 100,000 amazing volunteers, we are active in every part of the UK, giving girls and young women a space where they can be themselves, have fun, build brilliant friendships, gain valuable life skills and make a positive difference to their lives and their communities. We build girls’ confidence and raise their aspirations. We give them the chance to discover their full potential and encourage them to be a powerful force for good. We give them a space to have fun. We run Rainbows (5—7 years), Brownies (7—10 years), Guides (10—14 years) and The Senior Section (14—25 years). Registered Charity No. 306016. Find out more at