Pandemic Affected Teenage Girls Drinking To Cope With Anxiety And Stress

Mental health declining

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The focus of recent studies on the mental health of Australian teenagers during the pandemic, suggests a significant gender difference in the way adolescents have been coping.

A poll conducted by the James Cook University found one in four young people considered suicide over the past two years, while 15 per cent attempted self-harm.

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"The results appear to show there were psychological implications, but girls reported more symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression than boys did," James Cook University neuroscientist Professor Zoltan Sarnyai said.

"They also had more personal concerns and worries – such as whether their parents could lose their jobs or supermarkets could run out of food – than boys did"

- Prof Sarnyai

Meanwhile, The Age reports a study by the University of Sydney looking at health behaviours of young Australians, instead focuses on how the pandemic has affected teenagers' eating habits, as well as drinking, smoking, exercise, screen use and sleep patterns.

The data collected from 983 adolescents in NSW, Queensland, and Western Australia before the global pandemic in 2019, and once more in 2021, found excessive screen time jumped from 86 per cent to 94 per cent, while fruit was consumed less, and cigarette smoking was up slightly from one to four per cent.


However, the most significant discovery was the level of alcohol consumption and sleep habits among girls.

Drinking rates soared by 134 per cent, while poor sleep was clocked at 24 per cent higher among girls compared to boys.

“The way I see it is that both sleep problems and alcohol use are often co-morbid with mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” said lead author Dr Lauren Gardner, research fellow at the Matilda Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use in the Faculty of Medicine and Health.

“The mental health of teenage girls has worsened during the pandemic. Concerningly, within Australia we’ve seen a sharper increase in self-harm among young females than any other group.”

- Dr Gardner


Director of the Matilda Centre, Professor Maree Teesson, said the study reflected that girls were trying any avenue to cope with their distress.

“The alcohol use is really bucking the trend here because we’re seeing a decrease in alcohol use generally in young people. It’s super concerning,” she said.

“Poor coping mechanisms leave you at higher risk of anxiety and depression”

Teesson believes now is the time to develop new strategies to help teenagers come off risky behaviours picked up under stress.

“Switching off the pandemic doesn’t switch off these lifestyle and health consequences,” Professor Teesson said.


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3 June 2022

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