how do we get young brits to open up about their problems?

Following the publication of a new report highlighting that significant numbers of under-30s lack self-confidence and are at risk of mental health problems, the Young Women’s Trust is warning that Britain is facing “generation of young people in crisis...

by Lily Rose Thomas
22 September 2016, 2:15pm

'Let's get gurls talking' is the motto of Adwoa Aboah's foundation Gurls Talk, aiming to bring together young girls to talk about anything that may be troubling them. From first kisses and boyfriends to periods, to depression and anxiety - the aim is to start a conversation that you may not usually have. In an age where we are increasingly connected, the irony is that we are feeling more isolated than ever before. We cannot underestimate the importance of a good conversation.

The internet allows us 24/7 access to everyone and everything we could possibly imagine. We can follow the holiday of someone we barely know on Instagram, send snapchats to friends on the other side of the world, and through dating apps have easy hook ups at our fingertips. This can be amazing, but being constantly glued to our phones is having a detrimental effect on young people. A study by the University of Pittsburgh recently found that heavy social media use was linked to depression, and the National Citizen service found that girls were more likely to use social media to try and make themselves feel better than talk to their parents. I don't think these statistics are limited to young people either; how many times have you felt FOMO while mindlessly scrolling through Instagram? We are using likes and views to validate ourselves - and in doing so forgetting the importance of tangible life experiences. Whether it is an e-book instead of a hardback, an mp3 instead of a CD or a whatsapp LOL instead of a real laugh - it is so easy for us to slip away from the real world and into the blue screen. But as the old proverb goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and in this digital age it is more important than ever before that we talk and support each other in real life as well as online.

We are using likes and views to validate ourselves - and in doing so forgetting the importance of tangible life experiences. 

Friendship is actually good for your health, after all. A study at Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women have, the happier their life is and the better they age. They actually found a lack of close friends could be as harmful as smoking or being overweight. As well as this, UCLA found that women are psychologically wired to help each other - with a tendency to 'tend and befriend', and that having strong female friendships actually reduces stress and blood pressure. This shows how important it is to talk and support each-other - to have things like Gurls Talk, and to have friends as well as be a friend. It is the power of shared conversation and experience after all which makes things like Alcoholics Anonymous or Samaritans so successful - sharing problems and anxieties can often take the power out of them, rather than escalating them inside your head.

Related: We need to talk about mental health

The internet does have the power to start a conversation though, too - it is through the internet that more young women than ever before are able to engage with feminism, with things like #everydaysexism and #freethenipple bringing attention to the work towards equality that still needs to happen. But there are still limitations, and there is a long way to go - our first Gurls Talk film was given a warning by YouTube for even discussing nipples, and as well as Instagram banning female nipples altogether, they also last week deleted (and then re-instated) Harley Weir's account for posting her i-D cover story, showing a model with menstrual blood on her legs. There's also the fact that Rupi Kaur's image of herself with period stained pyjama bottoms was removed not once but twice for disobeying community guidelines.

Periods are still taboo because we don't speak about them enough. While in some places there is a real stigma that still exists, as women we often oppress ourselves too; the self inflicted, old fashioned feeling that makes you worry about dropping your tampons and someone seeing that Adwoa discusses in the Gurls Talk film.

It is through the internet that more young women than ever before are able to engage with feminism, with things like #everydaysexism and #freethenipple bringing attention to the work towards equality that still needs to happen.

However, some people are breaking this stigma - Kiran Gandhi rejected her own oppression by running the London Marathon without a tampon or a pad, a decision that was mostly practical, but one that also highlighted the plight of women who don't have access to feminine hygiene products (according to UNICEF and the WHO, 500 million girls worldwide). We need more conversations around this so that we can be aware of those who are more in need than ourselves. One person doing this is Chelsea Vonchaz, who started up 'Happy Period' in LA - after discovering that homeless shelters have no budget to provide tampons or pads to homeless women. Chelsea's monthly initiative gathers friends together to donate products and make packs, handing them out around local shelters. The initiative is spreading across the USA and is raising awareness and aiming to de-stigmatise periods - the stigma that causes women in need to too often suffer in silence.

Another thing we need to talk more about is depression and anxiety, and be aware that mental health issues can be just as serious as physical issues - there is still a taboo around discussing our own mental health but this needs to change when you take into account the fact that suicide is the biggest killer in men under 50. Sadface Club is an organisation aiming to tackle this both online and in the real world, by bringing people together to talk about their problems and how they cope with them. Talking is definitely something that has helped me in the past - in sharing my anxiety with friends (and professionals) I find I often feel so much better and so much less alone. I am often surprised by how many people have felt the same way as I have, and not spoken about it.

There are so many things that need more attention, and we need to keep the conversation going - to support each other, but also to normalise issues that carry stigma. It's good to talk - and we need to do a lot more of it.

Related: Why the government has to do more in today's mental health crisis


Text and photography Lily Rose Thomas