Girls have a slightly higher level of anxiety than boys and feel more responsibility to do well in exams, revealed a first-of-its-kind mental health survey, conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Meanwhile, it was observed that boys felt a higher level of pressure to perform.
The survey was aimed at gauging the status of mental health and well-being of students from Class 6-12, and had a sample size of 1,88,220 girls and 1,90,944 boys. Only 11 students who identified themselves as transgender persons were part of the survey.
The Quint spoke to a school counsellor and a psychologist who works with children to understand the trends and the reasons behind them.
Mood Swings, Anxiety More Common Among Girls
According to the survey, 81.1 percent of the girls who were surveyed reported that they faced anxiety related to studies, examinations, and results. 77.7 percent boys reported the same.
Overall the feeling of anxiousness was reported among 12.25 percent of the girls and 9.98 percent of the boys who were surveyed.
85 percent of the girls reported that they feel the responsibility to do well while 82 percent of the boys reported the same. Meanwhile, 46 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys said that they faced mood swings.
The survey stated:
“Research point at the differences in the socialisation patterns for expression of emotion by boys and girls which are shaped by their culturally defined gender roles. Early socialisation is a major contributor to the development of gender differences in perceiving the experiences of everyday life.”
Arshi Alam, a school counsellor at a private school in Gurgaon, said, “One reason for girls reporting anxiety is because girls have been encouraged to express themselves emotionally more than boys. This is because of the idea that is ingrained among children from a very young age that girls are allowed to cry and boys are not.”
Cultural Factors Lead to Stress, Body Image Issues
Nishtha Budhiraja, a psychologist and psychotherapist who works with children, said that among children and teenagers, more girls go to therapy. Elaborating on the reasons, she said, “There are a number of cultural factors and systems that put a lot of pressure on cis-het girls such as the need to adhere to social norms and the need to constantly be perfect.”
The NCERT survey stated that adolescent girls appear to be more vulnerable to the negative psychological effects of stress. Research indicates that, during adolescence, girls appear to be more vulnerable to the negative psychological effects of stress.
“Girls have been seen to have significantly higher levels of maladaptation, depressive symptoms, and eating disorders,” says the survey.
Regarding this, Nishtha said, “Girls with anxiety display more psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, tiredness, and other depression-like symptoms.” According to Arshi, girls are biologically more likely to be anxious, particularly around puberty age.
Body image issues were also more prevalent among girls. Arshi attributed this to how media depicts beauty and thereby puts more pressure on girls "to dress and look a certain way.”
“I had seen a girl in Class 2 who was hesitant to get on a weighing machine in front of her classmates, because she was on the slightly heavier side. Casual remarks made by adults can trigger children at a very young age.”
Only 11 students who identified as transgender persons participated in the survey. No numbers were given but the survey revealed that most students who identified as trans reported having low confidence regarding their physical appearance.
They also reported the non-availability of support to share and discuss their feelings. They were not bothered by the lack of attention from teachers. On the contrary, most of them agreed that they frequently help and support others when they can.
The survey results say, “Majority of students from this group also reported that they would not be respected if they do not do well in studies hence, most also perceived studies as the reason for their anxiety.”
The frequency of such emotional experiences was reported almost daily and mood swings were the most intensely experienced among them, in comparison to boys and girls. They also reported that they mostly lose hope in stressful situations.
Arshi said, “We can make inferences about representation from the sample size in the survey. Only 11 students identifying as trans and that is probably because many are afraid to even identify. This is because we are not very accommodating as a society and that shows in our manner and in our lingo.”
The Need For Gender-Neutral Toilets, Safe Spaces in Schools
According to Nishtha, something as simple as feeling safe enough to go to the washroom is an issue for transgender students. “It has been over a decade that we have been talking about gender-neutral washrooms. But how many schools have gender neutral toilets?”
In addition to this, she said, “Teachers should be more sensitive to students. Bullying is also high and that leads to a higher rate of suicide among them. First and foremost, there should be more awareness and education on bullying and students should be encouraged for queer-affirmative therapy.”
She added that irrespective of gender, safe-spaces should be created for all the students and schools should adopt support-group formats.