This is a trend that is being confirmed: the mental health of young girls and young women has deteriorated significantly in France. This is evidenced by the report published this Thursday by the Drees (Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics) in collaboration with Public Health France. The data analyzed show that young girls have made more suicide attempts and injured themselves more intentionally in recent years, with a particularly sharp increase in 2021 and 2022.

“Although it is recognized that adolescent girls and young women are one of the populations most at risk for self-inflicted acts (suicide attempt, scarification, burns, blows against a wall, Editor’s note),” note the authors , the studies deliver particularly “worrying” results. Even if these gestures reflect very different intentions, they all express the same psychological suffering.

While the trend was towards stability between 2008 and 2013, the figures soared, with a first period of moderate increase (2015-2019), followed by a second more acute one (2021-2022). Thus, psychiatric hospitalization rates for one of these reasons jumped by 246% among girls aged 10 to 14 between the periods 2010-2019 and 2021-2022. Among 15-19 year olds, the increase is 163%, and 106% among 20-24 year olds. More generally, the situation can be summarized as follows: the rate of psychiatric hospitalizations for self-inflicted acts among girls aged 10 to 19 doubled between 2012 and 2020, then doubled again, but in only two years, between 2020 and 2022. In hospital “somatic” care services (obstetrics, medicine, surgery), the figures are also rising sharply over the same periods, although to a lesser extent.

The most common actions are poisoning by taking medication (61 to 75% of hospitalizations), followed by cuts with a sharp object (10 to 19%).

This clear upward trend is not found in the rest of the population. Quite the contrary: among patients aged 30 to 50, men and women, hospitalizations for “self-inflicted gestures” are declining, in France but also on a European scale. As for young boys and young men, the rates remain stable and at a rather low level.

Also read: What to do when faced with a loved one who has suicidal thoughts?

The authors put forward several hypotheses to explain this particularity. “First, it is possible that the mental health of boys has not deteriorated as much as that of girls and women of the same age. Indeed, epidemiological surveys show that the increase in depressive syndromes among 15-24 year olds between 2014 and 2021 affected women much more than men,” they write. Then, it is possible that boys experiencing psychological suffering express it differently, in a more “externalized” way: through the consumption of substances (alcohol, drugs) or through dangerous behavior (violence, risky driving, etc.). . However, hospital data do not seem to confirm this last hypothesis, because hospitalizations linked to the use of psychoactive substances (with or without addiction) or to alcohol poisoning decreased among 15-30 year olds between 2012 and 2022.

Fabrice Jollant, professor of psychiatry (Paris-Saclay University / CHU Bicêtre) and co-author of the report, recalls that the existence of a peak in suicide attempts and self-mutilation among young girls around 16 years old is a phenomenon that predates only last two years, and that it has been observed since national statistics on the subject have been available (2008). For the doctor, “the explanation of this double phenomenon, the old peak and its recent increase, remains quite speculative”. Entry into high school is an important moment on a psychosocial level, between the evolution of friendly and romantic relationships, the first sexual relations, and questioning about the professional future. “It is also a pivotal moment for brain and physical development: it can be very stressful for some,” recalls Professor Jollant.

The psychiatrist does not “believe too much” in the impact of confinement linked to Covid to explain the acceleration of the phenomenon in 2021. On the other hand, he recalls, the violence suffered (whether domestic, physical or sexual) seems to contribute to the act. As such, “it is possible that the MeToo movement (for freedom of speech on sexual assault, editor’s note) has contributed to the externalized expression of the suffering resulting from this violence, perhaps not always with words among people. many adolescent girls, and therefore by acting out.

In addition to gender and age, other factors increase the risk of acting out, notably precariousness which is accompanied by increased exposure to violence and less access to care. People benefiting from Universal Medical Coverage (CMU) account for a quarter of hospitalizations for attempted suicide or self-mutilation, while they only represent 11% of patients who received care in 2022.*

If you have suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to call 3114, a free national support number, open 24 hours a day.