Documentary fronted by Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey will focus on Dundee’s drug death crisis

Documentary fronted by Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey will focus on Dundee’s drug death crisis

Mary Beard: Look to rising poverty to explain the mental health crisis

Mary Beard: Look to rising poverty to explain the mental health crisis

Speaking to The Big issue, the classicist said austerity is pushing people into illness


Famed scholar Mary Beard is clear on how we should tackle what she calls an “anxiety epidemic” in the UK.

Speaking to The Big Issue ahead of the return of pop culture show Front Row Late, she pointed out that spiralling mental illness figures must be considered alongside austerity and underfunded services in order to see the full picture.

The classicist asked if “you can talk about anxiety and mental health issues without thinking about all the other things people are suffering”.

She continued: “We have an anxiety epidemic and talk about those things very differently now, but it is not that anxiety didn’t exist.

“There is a rather basic, self-evident point, which is that people who haven’t got enough money to live on are anxious. I can remember what it is like if you put your card into the machine and it says, “Bugger off, you haven’t got any money.”

She also gently warned against placing all responsibility for the planet’s future on young environmental activists.

“It is very easy to think that the next generation will do it,” she said.” I remember one Cambridge meeting where we were choosing an early-career candidate and they all looked brilliant. The chair wisely said, don’t worry, we all looked like that once.

“There is a lot about the way this country is heading that worries me a great deal. But we are a collaborative species. Some of the things we are seeing at the moment I hope are a blip.”

Read the full interview in this week’s Big Issue, available from your local vendor or in the Big Issue shop.

Girls are facing a mental health crisis – and it’s not just because of Instagram

Sexual harassment, domestic abuse and poverty are growing causes of trauma among girls, and the gender disparity is going unnoticed
Young girl on the beach
Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have increased in recent years. 

In 2017 there has been report after report of a growing gender divide in mental health, with rising rates of mental illness among girls and young women. There has been little action to tackle these. In 2018, we have an opportunity to get things right.

From the intervention of a senior judge in the case of Girl X to rising numbers of girls and young women undergoing mental health admissionsself harm and suicidal thoughts, there has been wide range of evidence over the last year showing that our girls are facing a mental health crisis.

The reasons given by commentators for the worrying deterioration in young women and girls’ mental health tend to be the same: pressures of social media, body image and school. These things are undoubtedly part of the picture. But they are not the full story.

One of the biggest issues of the year has been the spotlight shone on sexual violence, harassment and abuse – from Harvey Weinstein and Westminster to the grooming gangs targeting vulnerable girls. This is an issue that is not going away.

For young women, the risks are particularly marked. They are facing sexual pressures, including from the availability of porn, which is informing relationships and driving the way men and boys behave towards girls and women. Sexual harassment and assaults in schools have increased in recent years. Sexual abuse and exploitation of girls remains widespread and young women are the most at-risk group for domestic abuse.

When you look at the types of mental health problems young women face, the more common disorders such as depression and anxiety are, as you might expect, widespread. But what is perhaps especially shocking is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, which one in seven young women experience. Far from this being a condition solely affecting veterans returning from wars, young women are being traumatised by sexual and physical violence and abuse on the streets, in our schools and in their homes.

The links between mental health issues and violence are well-established. Research for Agenda has found that out of all women who face a mental health problem, more than half have been abused. For one in four, that started in childhood.

At the same time, 2017 has seen a further increase in poverty, something that disproportionately affects women and children and which is another risk factor for poor mental health. There can be a tendency for commentators to look at mental health from a middle-class perspective, and to focus on social media, body image pressure and exam stress as causes. But we know that the links between poor mental health and poverty are marked.

We need to better understand and respond to these links. We need to help young women now, not store up problems for the future. Unresolved trauma and the stresses and pressure of poverty underpin many mental health issues. For some girls, their way of coping is to self-harm. For others, it is using drugs and alcohol – sometimes, it is both. This can lead to more problems such as addiction and homelessness, leaving women even more vulnerable to exploitation and enduring poverty.

To avoid this, we need to make sure help is available earlier. We urgently need to invest in mental health support in schools and communities that takes into account the particular needs of girls and young women, and identifies and supports those with experiences of abuse and trauma.

The government recently published a green paper on how to help children and young people with their mental health. Any real analysis of gender disparities was, however, lacking. But it is not too late, as these plans are currently out for consultation. 2018 is a chance to get them right.

Next year there will also be a review of the Mental Health Act, legislation on the use of restraint (something which again disproportionately affects girls and young women), and a domestic violence bill offering an historic opportunity to improve the response of public services to abuse.

I am also delighted to be co-chairing, alongside junior health minister Jackie Doyle-Price, the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce. This brings together experts on women’s mental health and involves key national organisations responsible for policy, commissioning and delivery of services, including NHS England and Public Health England. This is an opportunity to address and reverse the rising tide of mental ill health among young women.

Above all, in 2018, we must not ignore this alarming crisis, and acknowledge that gender inequality is a key driver. We need to recognise the impact of violence, abuse and poverty on young women and girls, and act now to prevent it having a devastating impact on their lives.


Katherine Sack-Jones is director of Agenda, an alliance of 50 charities working to help women and girls at risk.



Link to Guardian article here