The mental health of teenage girls in the United States has deteriorated at an alarming rate, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data reveals that almost three in five teenage girls in the country felt persistent sadness in 2021, double the rate of boys, and one in three girls considered attempting suicide.
The rates of sadness reported in the survey are the highest recorded in a decade, and they indicate a national tragedy that has only been worsened by the stress and isolation of the pandemic.
The Survey Conducted
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is conducted every two years and was given to 17,000 adolescents at high schools across the United States in the fall of 2021. The findings of the survey show high levels of violence, depression, and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. More than one in five of these students reported attempting suicide in the year before the survey. The rates of mental health problems have gone up with every report since 2011, according to Dr. Kathleen Ethier, head of the CDC’s adolescent and school health program.
The data also showed that the rates of illicit drug use and bullying at school among teenagers have reduced. The results suggested that teenagers are having less sex, with fewer sexual partners, than in previous years. However, about 57 percent of girls and 69 percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual teenagers reported feeling sadness every day for at least two weeks during the previous year.
The researchers also analyzed the data by race and ethnicity, finding that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to report skipping school because of concerns about violence. White students, however, were more likely to report experiencing sexual violence. Black students were less likely to report negative feelings than other groups, but they were more likely to report suicide attempts than white, Asian, or Hispanic adolescents.
The 2021 survey asked about students’ sexual orientation but did not ask about their gender identity, so data on risk factors for transgender students is not available.
Expert’s Take on the Matter
Dr. Victor Fornari, the vice-chair of child and adolescent psychiatry for Northwell Health, New York’s largest health system, noted that the drop in teen well-being coincided with the rise of smartphones. The technology’s full impact on adolescents’ mental health is still unknown, but there is an association between the use of social media and the dramatic increase in suicidal behavior and depressive mood.
More girls than boys reported being cyber-bullied, according to the CDC report, which found one in five girls said they had been the target of electronic bullying, almost double the 11 percent of boys. Dr. Fornari added that the number of adolescents coming to the emergency room at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where he practices, for suicidal thoughts or attempts has increased dramatically in recent decades. In 1982, there were 250 emergency room visits by suicidal adolescents. By 2010, the number had increased to 3,000. By 2022, it was 8,000.
Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that while many people think about taking their life, most of them will not act on it. However, the figures indicate that there is a need for people to start having conversations, checking in on each other, and making a plan to help each other.
The CDC’s report also shows high levels of depression, suicidal thoughts, and violence among teenage girls. The data reveals that girls are experiencing almost every type of violence more than boys. Researchers should be studying the increase in reports of violence, and its causes, Dr. Ethier said. She added that more attention should be paid to teenage boys and what might be leading them to perpetrate sexual violence.
The C.D.C. report stressed that healthy relationships at school could improve adolescents’ mental health.