We are in the midst of the worst mental health epidemic our country has ever seen. Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing. And our teenage girls? Are not okay.
According to a just-released report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 60% of teenage girls report feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, and 30% have seriously considered suicide.
That’s 1 in 3. This is up almost 60% from a decade ago. As the mother of a teenage girl, this is terrifying.
Additionally, nearly 1 in 2 girls report experiencing poor mental health, and 1 in 4 have gone so far as to make a suicide plan.
And if this doesn’t already turn your stomach, there’s more. Results from the CDC’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey also reveal a dramatic increase in sexual violence against teenage girls, with 1 in 5 saying they’ve experienced it in the past year. A fact that is also contributing to the high rates of suicidal behavior.
“For every 10 teenage girls you know, at least one of them, and probably more, has been raped,” Kathleen Ethier, director of CDC’s adolescent and school health division said in a media briefing.
The findings are based on surveys given to 17,232 high school students across the country in the fall of 2021. The CDC then compared those findings to survey data obtained biannually for the past three decades.
To put it in perspective, in 30 years of collecting similar data, “We’ve never seen this kind of devastating, consistent findings,” said Ethier.
And is it any wonder, really? Our teen girls are under more pressure than ever. We live in a digital age where they are constantly being bombarded with messages that they aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough, or liked enough.
Constant social media scrolling just perpetuates these feelings and leads to intense body image issues, anxiety, and depression. And yes, this has been scientifically proven.
They are growing up in a world where active shooter drills at school are a real thing, cyberbullying is rampant, and just physically hanging out with friends, rather than being on devices, is going extinct.
Not to mention the isolation and trauma of living through a worldwide pandemic.
Honestly, what have we done to our kids?
“There’s no question young people are telling us they are in crisis. The data really call on us to act,” Ethier said.
It’s not just our teenage girls who are suffering. Boys are too.
Overall, researchers saw significant increases in the percentage of all youth who seriously considered suicide, made a suicide plan, and attempted suicide, although the rates among boys are about half of those among girls.
This is yet another harsh reminder of the precarious state of the mental health of our kids.
Something HAS to be done.
While the CDC does make some recommendations in their report, they don’t go nearly far enough.
They call upon the schools to beef up their mental health strategies in three ways; including implementing quality health education, connecting young people to needed services, and making school environments safer and more supportive, with a strong focus on improving school connectedness.
“We suggest that our schools start by educating their staff and their families on what mental health is, what supports are available, and how they can access their services,” Anna King, President of the National PTA, said at the CDC media briefing.
It’s a start. But a lot more needs to be done if we, as a society, are going to stop failing our kids.
And it can feel daunting, especially as there is an overwhelming shortage of mental health services available. According to an investigation by PBS, 70% of U.S. counties don’t have a child psychiatrist, and if they do? The waiting list and wait times are astronomical.
So what can we, as parents, do?
Number one is to stop living in denial. The grim reality is that our teen girls are facing a mental health epidemic. It’s a fact.
We need to normalize talking with our kids about their mental health struggles and teach them coping skills to help manage stress. Limiting social media and monitoring it is also a good idea.
It’s also important to be on the lookout for red flags.
Signs of depression in teenagers include: changes in their behavior and their regular patterns and routines, prolonged sadness, angry outbursts, apathy, low self-esteem, loss of interest, and withdrawal. Parents should also be mindful of any changes in their teen’s eating or sleeping habits, social life, and performance in school.
We have to get serious about our kids’ mental health. Our teenage girls’ lives may just depend on it.