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Girls: More Vulnerable To Mental Health Problems

Research conducted in 73 countries found that there is a gender gap in adolescent mental health. We tell you about the findings and explanations of this situation.

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Las niñas: más vulnerables a los problemas de salud mental

One in seven young people, between the ages of 10 and 19, suffers from a mental disorder, according to information from the World Health Organization. These are disorders responsible for 13% of global morbidity in this population group. For this reason, there are increasing efforts to protect the mental health of children and adolescents.

In this regard, research published in the SSM Magazine - Population Health, carried out by professors at University College London, found that girls have worse average mental health than boys. In other words, it found evidence of a significant gender gap in adolescents' mental health. In addition, it is a universal gap in all cultures, despite the fact that it has different nuances in each context.

It was a transnational study that took into account data from the Pisa 2018 test of 566,829 adolescents located in 73 countries and analyzed four factors: psychological distress, satisfaction with life, eudaemonia (the experience of purpose and meaning in life), and hedonia. (understood as positive affect). Although the gender gap occurred in the 4 components analyzed, a more pronounced gap was identified in psychological distress and life satisfaction.

On the other hand, the researchers studied and related other variants such as economic factors (GDP), the Gini coefficient to mediate inequality, and indicators of gender equality achieved in the countries. One of the biggest surprising findings was that "More gender-equal countries have larger gender gaps in mental health." Likewise, one of the conclusions of the study was that in the countries that had a higher GDP per capita, there was also a worse average mental health and a larger gender gap in this aspect. Thus: "Individual countries consistently have some of the largest gender gaps in mental health, including Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, and South Korea"

How are these differences in mental health outcomes explained?

That countries with higher GDP have a wider gender gap does not mean that countries with lower income have good mental health indicators. In fact, where there was greater income inequality, there was also greater psychological distress for both sexes. However, "Higher income inequality was associated with slightly lower life satisfaction for boys and slightly higher life satisfaction for girls, and thus a slightly smaller gender gap in the most unequal countries." In this way, what is reduced is the gap, but not the presence of anguish.

On the other hand, the countries with societies that had the worst gender equality scores, such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon or Jordan, showed the particularity that children were the ones who presented the worst mental health indicators, in some cases.

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These data show that mental health problems are complex and heterogeneous phenomena, and that each society has particularities. Therefore, it is necessary to study very well the context of each country to meet the specific mental health needs of young people. For this reason, models that generalize tend to fail. In fact, here it is possible to cite Easterlin's famous paradox, which points out that an increase in wealth does not always mean an increase in well-being. The latter is multidimensional and has various factors that compose it, beyond monetary income.

The truth is that, according to the results of the study, women are still more vulnerable to mental health problems: a problem that cannot be ignored. "As for women, while progress has been made, many barriers to full equality remain that may explain some of our association between gender equality and poorer female mental health, or slightly better female mental health in the case of satisfaction with life," the research points out. In other words, despite the implementation of gender equality measures, the road is still long and the results are long-term.