Girls and AnxietyIt is both a matter of research and clinical reality that girls are more likely to develop most anxiety disorders than boys.

In his recent New York Times blog, author and psychologist Leonard Sax painted an “increasingly common” picture of “the laid-back, underachieving boy” as opposed to the “hyperachieving, anxious girl” and came up with reasons why he saw a split between the sexes when it came to youngsters and anxiety.

His main reasons boil down to:

  • During adolescence, girls tend to become more dissatisfied with the way they look while boys are more satisfied with their bodies.
  • Girls and boys use social media differently and girls are at a greater risk of its “toxic effects”.

Sax goes on to list parenting skills such as cutting back on technology and engaging more in conversation as ways to target anxiety.

But the key element in noting the gender differences in mental health statistics is to look at the risk factors associated with men and women.

According to the World Health Organisation:

  • Depression is twice as common in women than men – and may be more persistent.
  • Depressive disorders account for close to 41.9{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} of the disability from neuropsychiatric disorders among women compared to 29.3{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} among men.
  • The lifetime prevalence rate for alcohol dependence is twice as high in men than women and, in developed countries like New Zealand, around 1 in 5 men develop alcohol dependence during their lives, compared to 1 in 12 women.
  • Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder than women.

So, yes, there are certain areas where gender counts for a difference in statistics surrounding mental health – but in terms of anxiety, it seems that it’s how children are brought up and their environment which causes the difference. It doesn’t come down to a matter of biology.

Research using the famous Dunedin Longitudinal Study has revealed that up until 11, girls and boys are equally prone to an anxiety disorder, but by 15 a gap has widened to girls being six times more prone to an anxiety disorder than boys.

In his book Nerve, author Taylor Clark puts this down to the “skinned-knee effect” whereby parents nurse daughters who suffer injuries while telling sons to “man up”. Long-term, Clark argues, this leaves young women with fewer coping strategies and higher anxiety than boys.

Whoever you agree with, it is clear that none of us are biologically programmed to live with anxiety – rather stress and mental illness can affect anyone at pretty much any time of their lives.

And it may well be true that women are more likely to talk about their anxiety than men – and hence seek some form of treatment – but that doesn’t mean the same treatments don’t work just as effectively for either sex.

The important thing, then, is to know the signs of anxiety in your children and understand some of the ways in which you can prevent triggers to that anxiety becoming troublesome to your children’s development.

At Robert Street Clinic we have a wide range of psychotherapists, psychiatrists and psychologists skilled at family, child and adolescent therapy. For more information, call us on 09 973 5950, email us at or message us via the website.