Girls’ mental health has deteriorated sharply over the past four years. The percentage of girls in secondary education who suffer from significant emotional problems, such as fears, worrying and depressive feelings, has increased from 28 to 43 percent since 2017.

    That is one of the main conclusions of the report Health Behavior in School-aged Children to be presented on Wednesday. It contains the results of twenty years of research into the well-being and health of Dutch young people between the ages of eleven and sixteen.

    The researchers, a collaboration of Utrecht University, the Trimbos Institute and the Social and Cultural Planning Office, speak of “an unprecedented decline” in girls’ mental health.

    Mental health has also declined among boys in secondary education, “but the magnitude of this is disproportionate to the decline among girls,” the researchers write.

    The figure that girls give to their lives in secondary education has fallen: from 7.3 in 2017 to 6.7 in 2021. In the past twenty years, this figure has never fallen below 7. In fact, in 2001 Dutch young people gave their lives almost an 8, higher than in most other countries.

    Corona time

    Corona probably plays a major role in the decline in mental health, says project leader Gonneke Stevens, youth researcher at Utrecht University. The survey was conducted in the autumn of 2021, in the middle of the corona crisis and just before the third school closure that confined students to their homes again. “Our figures indicate that girls in particular have suffered from the lack of social contact with their peers,” says Stevens. “Boys to a lesser extent, they have started gaming more, but that seems to have had little effect on their mental well-being.”

    Also read the full interview with project leader Gonneke Stevens: ‘The image of our happy, happy childhood has taken a bite’

    The emotional problems have not been solved now that schools are open again and corona has disappeared from the streets, Stevens says. “Mental vulnerability does not just disappear, you can continue to suffer from it for a long time.”

    Performance Pressure

    Moreover, there is more going on than just corona. Long before the corona crisis, the researchers saw in their four-yearly measurements that young people are increasingly affected by schoolwork. They are tiptoeing to live up to the high expectations – and that starts as early as eighth grade.

    Between 2001 and 2021, the percentage of young people experiencing pressure and stress from school nearly tripled, from 16 to 45 percent. And here too it is mainly girls who suffer from it: 54 percent compared to 36 percent of boys.

    “It seems that the carefree life of Dutch students is over,” write the researchers. They call it a “particularly worrisome development” because previous research has shown that schoolwork pressure is strongly linked to mental health problems.

    The increase in pressure, the researchers say, is due to “the increased importance placed by young people, their parents, and society in general to attain the highest possible level of education.”

    Also read: What’s it like to be a teenager during the coronavirus crisis?

    The once infamous ‘six culture’ among Dutch schoolchildren and students seems to be a thing of the past, something that, according to the researchers, can also be seen in the growth of shadow education: tutoring, homework support and private education where parents who can afford it more money. to spend. Corona, Stevens suspects, has also acted as a catalyst here: the learning disadvantages have increased the pressure to achieve high grades even more.

    Interview Stevens p. 10-11