The girls’ mental health is greatly deteriorated | News report

News item | 14-09-2022 | 12:15 p.m

The mental health of girls in the Netherlands deteriorated sharply between 2017 and 2021. This appears from the report Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC), which contains the results of 20 years of research into the well-being and health of young people in the Netherlands. Today, the report is presented to Her Majesty Queen Máxima during the symposium ‘Youth in the 21st century’ in Utrecht.


The HBSC survey is carried out every four years by researchers from Utrecht University, the Trimbos Institute and the Social and Cultural Planning Office. The results show that emotional problems among young people have increased over the past four years. In particular, the proportion of girls in secondary education with emotional problems has increased sharply: from 28% to 43%. Among the girls in Group 8, this increased from 14% to 33% during this period. There are also reasons for concern in other areas. Not only do girls report much more emotional problems in 2021 than four years earlier, but also more behavioral problems and hyperactivity/attention problems.

Also boys mentally less

Mental health has also declined among boys. For example, the score that both girls and boys give for their lives has never been lower than in 2021: an average of 7.1. While this figure was over 7.5 in previous years and even an 8 in 2001, the scale of the decline in mental health among boys is disproportionate to that among girls. According to the researchers, these results underline the importance of the new government approach ‘Mental health: for us all’, where special attention is paid to young people.

Schoolwork has tripled the pressure

As between 2013 and 2017, the proportion of students experiencing pressure from school work has increased significantly in the period 2017-2021. In the past 20 years, this percentage has even tripled. In 2001, only 16% of young people in secondary education stated that they experience (quite) a lot of pressure due to schoolwork. In 2021, this has increased to 45%. Here, too, girls show a more unfavorable development than boys.

Good social relations

Ever since the first survey in 2001, young people in the Netherlands have stood out because of their good social relationships with their parents, classmates and friends. However, girls in secondary education have become somewhat less positive about friends’ support, the atmosphere between classmates and their relationship with teachers between 2017 and 2021.

The percentage of young people who indicate that they often bully or are bullied online has also increased between 2017 and 2021. For girls in elementary school, the percentage who indicate that they are often bullied online has increased from 1% to 6%. . In the same group, the percentage of problematic social media users increased from 2% to 5% between 2017 and 2021.

The influence of the corona crisis

According to the researchers, the deterioration of mental health among (especially) girls is probably largely related to the corona crisis. Leading researcher Gonneke Stevens from Utrecht University: “But this does not mean that the problem will be solved once the corona crisis is a thing of the past. It is quite possible that the developed psychological fragility among girls will not simply disappear.”

A decrease in the percentage of students experiencing pressure due to school work is not necessarily expected either. Stevens: “The educational disadvantages resulting from the corona crisis may have been a catalyst for a pre-existing social development: the increased importance that young people, their parents and society in general attach to performing at school.”

Smoking and alcohol consumption are still too high

After a long period when smoking and alcohol consumption among young people fell, this has not fallen further in recent years. The proportion of young people who smoke or drink will still be too high in 2021. In 2021, 42% and 60% of 15- and 16-year-olds drank in the last month, respectively. And these young people drink a lot. 74 to 83% of these alcohol users have had five or more glasses of alcohol on one occasion within the past month. In addition, one in ten young people in 2021 will have smoked in the past month. It is also striking that while boys smoked and drank alcohol more often in previous years than girls, these differences have disappeared in 2021.

The HBSC survey has been conducted every four years since 2001 by researchers from Utrecht University, the Trimbos Institute and the Social and Cultural Planning Office. The 2021 HBSC report also addresses themes such as eating behaviour, exercise, sexual behavior and gaming. Differences in age, sex, level of education, migration background, family type and family wealth are examined for all themes.

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