New figures show that the number of young women suffering from a chronic mental illness has soared (file photo)
As if there wasn’t enough to worry about, new figures show that the number of young women suffering from a chronic mental illness has soared.
One young woman in four aged 16 to 24 self-harms, while researchers found that 26 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 had anxiety, depression, panic disorder, phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Overall, 19 per cent of women of all ages had one of those, compared with 12 per cent of men.
What a terrible indictment of our society. The women in the younger age bracket should be carefree: no mortgage, no children, no ageing parents. But the problem with mental illness is that it clouds everything.
You might have a new car, but you worry you will crash it in a fireball on the motorway. You have a new boyfriend, but you worry he will cheat on you. You have a new job, but you worry you will make a mistake.
I’ve suffered from mental illness since I was five, and was too scared to go to school. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: you are anxious, so you don’t tackle things (an unfair work contract, a difficult sibling, the bank manager), so your life gets worse, and you become more anxious.
Life is never problem-free, but if you have a healthy level of self-esteem, it’s like having an umbrella in a deluge: you can weather the adversity. I am writing a book at the moment, with teenage girls in mind. I want to forewarn them about pressure points, the things that trigger my anxiety. Here are the main reasons why I’ve been anxious, and what I’ve learned…
Liz Jones says the most balanced individuals she has met, including Adele, put their own wellbeing before their jobs
1. Money: Rather than being forced to do needlework and hockey, I wish I’d been taught in school how to look after myself financially. Too many young women are optimists. They think nothing of spending hours on social media, or shopping sites, but won’t do research about interests rates, how to save, how to protect themselves when they buy a house, take a job or get married.
If you are an anxious person, you are necessarily an ostrich, refusing to open envelopes, ask questions, stick up for yourself. There is no shame in saving, being meticulous about bills, and not splashing out when other women get married or have babies. Learn to be selfish. Look out for number one.
2. Men: I wonder how much of my life I have wasted by worrying about men – and not just worrying, but also exercising, exfoliating, plucking, tanning, dyeing and starving. I would love to tell young women that, actually, men are not important. They are as flawed and insecure as we are. Get a cat or a dog instead. Once you stop caring, you become catnip to suitors. Once you have a potential mate in mind, hire a private investigator to check he’s solvent and suitable. Trust no one.
3. Career: The most balanced individuals I’ve met – Adele, Jennifer Lawrence – put their own wellbeing before their jobs. Adele told me – as I stared, open-mouthed – that she had just told her record company she was taking a year off to spend time with friends, family, herself. My advice is to not take your job too seriously: it will never love you back. People will forget your mistakes and your triumphs. Your bosses only care about themselves.
4. Your body: It should not be a battleground. You should love yourself, not spend your youth worrying about how much you weigh, what clothes you should wear, or how beautiful you are. When you are old, you will look back at yourself in your teens and 20s and be amazed that you never appreciated being young.
5. Other people: I spend most days in terror, wondering who on earth is going to email me next, crushing me, oppressing me, making demands. The best book I have read recently is The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F**k, by Sarah Knight. Absolutely blinding. Read it. Do it.
6. People in authority: They make me anxious. Insolvency practitioners. Divorce lawyers. Managing editors. Publishers. Policemen. Estate agents. The man at the end of the phone at Npower/FloGas/MS Bank… the list is endless. Young women are vulnerable to being scared by this lot: it’s in our DNA. I like to give them a dose of their own medicine: say you are recording every call. Ask for full names. Get expert advice. Be ruthless.
7. The digital world: There is no point in my day when I’m not being terrified by an email, a text, a tweet or Facebook comment. Young women: make sure you live your life first-hand, and look up occasionally. Turn off your phone.
Remember that in 100 years, no one will care about your Next debt, your cellulite, or that a man dumped you. I tend to look up at the stars when I’m anxious, and remind myself that no one really cares about me. I’m a speck. If I can manage to have a passable life, no one will be taking a damn bit of notice. It’s nothing to ‘them’. It’s everything to me.