Suicides among young women are at their highest recorded rate, with the number having doubled over the last 10 years. At the same time, overall suicide rates in the UK have hit a 20-year low, new data shows.
In 2016, 118 women aged 20 to 24 took their own lives, compared with 67 in 2006 – a 76% increase, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Among this group, there were 5.7 suicides per 100,000 last year – up from 3.3 per 100,000 in 2006. Meanwhile, the UK-wide suicide rate fell by 4% last year.
Mental health professionals have attributed the sharp rise to the negative impact of modern life on our mental health, which includes the "selfie culture", the digital world and the pressures of modern technology more generally. Various studies have linked social media to mental ill-health, while others suggest that our mental health issues can show themselves though our online presence.
Chris O’Sullivan from the Mental Health Foundation cited the digital world and body image pressures resulting from our "selfie culture" as potential explanations for the jump in suicides among young women. “The group at the highest risk are middle-aged men, but young women are the ones that stick out in these figures, and we absolutely need to understand why this is by looking at the challenges they face,” he told the Independent.
“Young women and girls face an enormous range of challenges and a lot of these are emerging at a pace that adults don’t understand. The digital world and how young people relate to it is something we need more research on. And this particularly reflects young women and girls in terms of body image: The ‘selfie’ culture and the need for physical perfection."
O’Sullivan called for "a better frame of understanding" on the way modern life, including social media and technology, affects our mental health.
The ONS figures also showed a rise in suicides among teenage girls aged between 15 and 19 of around a fifth, from a rate of 2.3 per 100,000 to 2.9 over the same period. The rise in mental health issues and general unhappiness among this group has been well documented, with many citing the inescapable nature of social media and academic pressure as particularly harmful.
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