Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
Nearly three in five high school girls reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2021, representing a 60 percent increase over the past decade, and fared worse than boys of the same age across nearly all measures of mental health, U.S. government data showed.
The data shows a “dramatic” rise in experiences of violence, poor mental health and suicide risk in teens, especially in girls, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said.
“The levels of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors recorded by teenage girls are now higher than we have ever seen,” CDC’s Kathleen Ethier told reporters.
The current study did not examine the cause of the spike, but the CDC noted there was also a 20% increase in reports of sexual violence among high school girls since 2017, when the agency started monitoring this measure.
“CDC and many other researchers have looked at this and we know that with sexual violence, it is associated with mental health issues, substance use and also long-term health consequences,” CDC’s Debra Houry said.
About 57 percent of the female students reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness”, up from 36 percent in 2011, according to the data.
For male students, the figure rose to 29 percent from 21 percent during the same period.
There were improvements for adolescents in some areas, such as risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and bullying, but mental health and suicidal thoughts as well as experiences of violence worsened, the data showed.
Overall, 42 percent of high school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped their usual activities.
The study found 22 percent of teens had considered attempting suicide in the past year, of which female students accounted for more than twice that of male students.
The results echo previous surveys and reports and many of the trends began before the pandemic. But isolation, online schooling and increased reliance on social media during the pandemic made things worse for many kids, mental health experts say.
The results “reflect so many decades of neglect towards mental health, for kids in particular,” said Mitch Prinstein, the American Psychological Association’s chief science officer. “Suicide has been the second- or third-leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 24 years for decades now,” and attempts are typically more common in girls, he said.
Comprehensive reform in how society manages mental health is needed, Mr. Prinstein said. In schools, kids should be taught ways to manage stress and strife, just as they are taught about exercise for physical disease prevention, he said.
In low-income areas, where adverse childhood experiences were high before the pandemic, the crisis has been compounded by a shortage of school staff and mental health professionals, experts say.
School districts around the country have used federal pandemic money to hire more mental health specialists, if they can find them, but say they are stretched thin and that students who need expert care outside of school often can’t get it because therapists are overburdened and have long waitlists.
This report contains information from Reuters and The Associated Press.