Girls’ mental health “at a precipice” and increasingly worse than boys’, data shows

The mental health of girls is “at a precipice” with tens of thousands now hiding signs of deep distress from their teachers and parents, an analysis of data from 15,000 secondary school students across the UK reveals.

The data, captured by education company STEER Education, shows a stark – and growing – divide between girls’ and boys’ social and emotional wellbeing, something experts fear may be one of the “long-lasting effects of the pandemic”.

STEER Education, working in partnership with the social enterprise Minds Ahead, analysed online responses from students in 92 state secondary schools at least twice a year, and mostly every term, from before the start of the pandemic to up until December 2021.

The findings, part of STEER’s Young People’s Mental Health in the UK report, reveal that:

  • Girls aged 11 are now 30% more likely to suffer from poor mental health than boys of the same age. By the time girls reach 18, they are now more than twice as likely to experience poor mental health than boys of the same age.


  • Increasing numbers of girls now go to great lengths to conceal signs of distress, making it harder for teachers and education staff to identify and help them. While 60% of secondary school girls did this before the pandemic, an alarming 80% do so now. Unhealthy perfectionism and extreme self-control are also far more common. While 20% of secondary school girls had these traits before the pandemic, an alarming 80% do so now.


  • The pandemic appears to have affected girls’ mental health much more severely than boys’ – girls are now 33% more likely to experience poor mental health than those the same age as them before the pandemic. In contrast, boys are 12% more likely to do so. Girls’ mental health is most at risk between the ages of 14 and 18, the data shows.


  • However, compared to 2018, both boys and girls are now 40% less trusting of others, 25% less likely to take risks and 25% less able to choose an appropriate and measured response to life’s everyday challenges.


NHS Services have recorded a large rise in demand for mental health support for young people since the pandemic, with nearly 630,000 children in England accessing help between October 2020 and September 2021. According to the NHS, one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health disorder in July 2020, a huge increase from one in nine in 2017.

At the same time, the number of young people referred to mental health services dropped in 2020/21. As the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, said in a briefing earlier this month, it is likely that this is because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.


STEER Education and Minds Ahead fear that many schools, through no fault of their own, may only be identifying a fraction of students who are vulnerable and require support because of inadequate detection methods and a lack of training.


Simon Antwis, STEER Education’s Senior Education Consultant and a former headteacher and school inspector, said:


“Schools are understandably deeply worried by the growing numbers of students with poor mental health. This report on the current state of young people’s mental health shows that we should be particularly alarmed by the state of girls’ mental health in secondary schools – it is at a precipice and the pandemic has exacerbated a worrying trend we have seen now for many years.


“The growing gulf between boys’ and girls’ mental health looks to be one of the long-lasting effects of the pandemic, with recovery from school closures taking a long time.


“But perhaps particularly concerning is the number of girls who are now keeping their worries and fears to themselves, making it much more difficult for their teachers to identify them as vulnerable and in need of support.”


Simon Antwis said many schools use student voice tools, such as online surveys and chat hubs, to identify vulnerable students, but warned that these “only detect a fraction of those who need support”. “They fail to spot the ‘hidden middle’ – those who may be showing early signs of self-harm, bullying, anxiety and unhealthy self-control,” he said.


STEER Education offers a unique online assessment tool to schools which alerts them to students who may have emerging mental health risks, but are not showing visible signs of vulnerability. Minds Ahead provides qualifications and training to schools and colleges so that they can better support their students’ mental health.

Dean Johnstone, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Minds Ahead, said:

“These results show that now more than ever, schools and colleges need to be supported to address the complexities of young people’s mental health.


“Having qualified, education focused mental health professionals as part of the staff team is vital. Staff on our masters programmes for the Mental Health Lead and the School Mental Health Specialist say that this ensures a comprehensive and sustainable approach to mental health for all pupils and staff.


“Minds Ahead continues to work with partners to provide DfE assured training for experienced staff taking on these new roles which we know is making a real difference in the schools and colleges we work with.”


Andrew Rodgers, Principal of Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, said:


“We know that the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on young people’s mental health.


“Our Multi-Academy Trust has prioritised the wellbeing and mental health of our students by proactively measuring and tracking their self-regulation and mental health so that we’re able to provide timely support to those students who have been struggling.”



Increase in the percentage of girls who struggle to choose an appropriate and measured response to life’s everyday challenges before the pandemic,  Jan 2019- Mar 2020, and at the end of the pandemic – July 2021 to December 2021.

The widening disparity between girls and boys: Percentage of girls and boys who struggle to choose an appropriate and measured response to life’s everyday challenges before the pandemic, Jan 2019 – Mar 2020, and at the end of the pandemic, July 2021 to December 2021.

Children’s Mental Health Week 2021: resources available now

With less than 3 months until Children’s Mental Health Week 2021, we’re excited to release our resources to help everyone get involved.

For this year’s theme Express Yourself, Place2Be is encouraging children (and adults) to explore the different ways we can express ourselves, and the creative ways that we can share our feelings, our thoughts and our ideas.

Around five children in every classroom have a mental health problem, and many more struggle with challenges from bullying to bereavement. Whether you’re someone who works with childrena parent or carerpassionate about spreading the word, or keen to raise vital funds for Place2Be, you can get involved and help us reach as many people as possible. 

Free resources for schools

Free primary and secondary resources are now available, including assembly guides, slides, group activities, fundraising ideas and more to help schools and youth groups explore what it means to Express Yourself

As we get nearer to the week, we’ll also share our top tips for parents, and Welsh language resources for schools and families in Wales.

Dress to Express

This Children’s Mental Health Week, we’re asking you to ‘Dress to Express’. The idea is simple – use colour to express yourself during the week by wearing a colourful outfit and donating  £2 to Place2Be.  

Could you organise a Dress to Express Day in your school, organisation or friend group? Download our fundraising guide today, and find out how you can help raise vital funds to help more children and young people get the emotional support they need.

Spread the word

How do you express yourself? How do you express your feelings, thoughts, or ideas? What are your tips for young people on expressing themselves? Why are you supporting the week? Share your stories and help us to spread the word.

Download our free social media guide with template posts, downloadable images and more ideas to inspire you.

If you are tweeting and posting about the week, be sure to tag Place2Be in your posts and use #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek.


Learn more about Children’s Mental Health Week >>

Find out more about Place2Be >>


  • Mental health awareness is one of the most sought-after skills in the education and early years sector due to COVID-19 pandemic – according to new skills and employment trends report
  • Mental Health awareness was listed within 15,000 education and early learning job postings since the start of COVID-19 lockdown
  • Online learning provider, The Skills Network, is now calling for schools to add mental health learning onto the curriculum following rise in skills-gap

A skills and employment trends report* published today (11 November) by The Skills Network, in partnership with Emsi, has highlighted a mental health awareness skills gap in the education and early learning sector, due to COVID-19 pandemic.

With 71% of early years staff furloughed between March and August 2020, and 11% made redundant, online learning provider, The Skills Network, has issued a report to highlight the top 10 skills*** in demand across the sector.

By analysing 1.5 million job adverts between March and September 2020, The Skills Network report published, in partnership with Emsi, has highlighted welfare, autism, child protection, mental health and auditing, amongst the top 10 most in demand skills in the education and early years sector.

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive from The Skills Network, is now calling for schools across the country to add mental health learning onto the curriculum to help close this growing skills gap. He said: “Being able to identify and address mental health is a growing requirement for staff in the education and early learning sector. With half of mental health problems beginning by age 14, it is clear why understanding mental health is currently the seventh most demanded skill for early years and educational roles.

“Both teachers and support staff play a significant role in tackling mental health issues within the classroom, and mental health training can equip today’s candidates with the right tools to help children experiencing personal problems.

“With many employers across all industries now looking for employees to have mental health awareness, we’d urge schools and learning providers to look to improve the current curriculum, and to ensure that education around mental health is being offered.”

To assist those looking to discover the most in-demand skills in their local area, The Skills Network has also developed an online app, which will provide a personalised list of the top 15 sought-after skills and roles available in your postcode area.

Mark Dawe continues: “At The Skills Network, we offer distance learning, as a way of learning remotely without attending lessons in a classroom or having regular face to face contact with a Tutor. We’d urge any employers looking to upskill their current team to consider online training.”

Andy Durman, Managing Director of EMSI UK, added: “The huge disruption to the economy this year has revealed a number of new labour market challenges, such as the widening skills gap and increased automation. We need to better understand exactly what skills employers are demanding, and how this is changing over the period of economic upheaval and beyond.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with The Skills Network to bring some of our data and insight to these issues, helping to shine a light on changing employer demand for occupations, job roles and skills in various critical sectors throughout the country.”

To access the full skills and employment trends report, or to review the online courses available – please visit