We are living in anxious times
Our Anxious Young Women
- Thought Leadership
It’s undeniable that we are living in anxious times and no one is feeling this more than young women.
Statistics from the 2017/18 New Zealand Health Survey revealed that 17% of young women aged 15 to 24 experienced symptoms such as anxiety, confused emotions, depression or rage often - that’s double the rate of young men of the same age.
So what’s going on?
A lot of people are quick to blame social media but multiple studies show that moderate use of digital technology has positive effects on mental wellbeing. What stresses young people out is when they have limited access to the internet and when they’re online too much.
The pressure to achieve is another big one - at high school it’s all about academics and NCEA. After high school young women feel that they have to make a difference and have high expectations of achievement. There is perceived pressure that they’ve only got one shot and they have to get it right first time. For girls from migrant/refugee backgrounds who have to juggle the two worlds they live in and those that enter typically male dominated STEM fields, the pressure is even worse.
Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is how much our young women are worried about financial stability - not just their own, but for their parents and whanau as well. Spiralling housing costs, insecure employment, and the burden of debt impact more of our population than not.
It is clear that any solutions have to do three things:
First, we need system-level change to reduce societal stressors, with a particular focus on equity. The recommendations in He Ara Oranga : report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction were particularly strong on this and we hope that the government takes decisive and quick action.
Second, we need to provide young women with the capacity to better cope with the stresses of adolescence and beyond. We’d love to see a compulsory curriculum that teaches personal development, resilience, social skills and responsible online participation alongside maths, science and english. Young women need to learn how to be adaptable, be unafraid to fail, be able to be creative and work with others well.
And lastly, for those young women who need more support, we need to make professional help more available and accessible than it currently is.The Pacifica and Maori young women we work with feel that mental health support in Aotearoa NZ is very “white” and they don’t feel comfortable being so vulnerable in that context. An online solution like e-therapy makes a lot of sense for young women. Being digital natives they are comfortable online and it avoids having to be face to face with an adult, something they are not so comfortable with.