Older teen girls at more risk of internalising mental health issues – ESRI study

Financial difficulties, lone parenting, chronic illness, special needs factored as being of risk

Between the ages of nine and 17, a gap opens up showing girls more prone to internalising problems, particularly in the later adolescent years and toward young adulthood, according to  ESRI research. Photograph: iStock

Between the ages of nine and 17, a gap opens up showing girls more prone to internalising problems, particularly in the later adolescent years and toward young adulthood, according to ESRI research. Photograph: iStock

 

Girls are far more likely to internalise mental health issues than boys in later teenage years, according to new research.

The finding is contained in a third and final study of youth health and wellbeing completed by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), in partnership with the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Focusing on risk factors to mental health and drawing on data from the ongoing Growing Up In Ireland study, the report was launched in an online presentation on Wednesday.

ESRI associate research professor, Anne Nolan, explained that between the ages of three and nine, there is an increasing pattern of children “internalising difficulties”, representing a deterioration in emotional and peer problems.

“But there’s no statistically significant difference between boys and girls at this age; the trends are broadly similar,” she said.

However, between the ages of nine and 17, a gap opens up showing girls more prone to internalising problems, particularly in the later adolescent years and toward young adulthood.

The research showed that some life circumstances had poor effects such as being from a lone parent background, even when adjusted for socio-economic status, or being in a family that has financial difficulties.

For younger children, those at the age of nine in this study cohort, close relationships with mothers are seen to be positive, whereas a “hostile parenting style” emerged as a risk factor.

In the 17-year age cohort, financial difficulties, lone parenting or separation, chronic illness and special educational needs all factored as being of risk to emotional wellbeing.

“One of the most striking findings, consistent with international research, is that a significant gender gap [for] internalising problems opens up in adolescence,” said Prof Nolan.

However, her colleague ESRI professor Emer Smyth noted that gender gaps in health and wellbeing were actually a persistent theme across all three studies.

“Those who had low levels of physical exercise and a poor diet were much more likely to be female,” she said. “Young women were much less likely to fall into this healthy group that combined good diet, physical exercise and low rates of drinking and smoking.

“So we see already that there are health differences between young men and young women as early as 17.”

Drawing from all of the research, she said children and teenagers had fewer socio-economic difficulties when close relationships existed with parents and where there were low levels of conflict.

However, while the quality of peer relationships was important, they were not always positive – those reliant on friends’ advice when it came to sex were less likely to use contraception, while those who socialised with older children were more likely to drink and smoke.