Teen girls are experiencing record levels of sadness, according to research released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, 3 in 5 teen girls said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, a 60% increase from a decade earlier.
For 30% of these girls, the despair was to a level that they strongly considered suicide, also a 60% increase from 2011. Mental health declined in teen boys, too, but considerably less — the report describes the difference between boys’ and girls’ negative experiences as “stark.”
The research also reported that teen girls are experiencing increasing rates of sexual coercion and violence, with 1 in 10 girls saying they had been forced to have sex, and 1 in 5 saying they’d been victims of sexual violence in the last year.
Another key finding was that teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning also suffer from worse mental health and more violence than their heterosexual peers. Almost half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning high schoolers have contemplated suicide and almost a quarter have attempted to take their own life. The report does not provide data about transgender teens.
Although the report does not identify why these issues are escalating, it does connect them to lack of stable housing, parental monitoring and “school connectedness.”
“School connectedness” is the extent to which students feel connected to people at school, and plays “a critical role in promoting students’ health and development.” High schoolers who are girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning or part of marginalized ethnic groups are less likely to find belonging at school.
The findings were not all so disheartening — teens overall experienced less bullying and engaged in less substance use and risky sexual behavior. But the intensifying distress experienced by high schoolers in the U.S. “calls for action.”
The report calls on schools to help lighten the burdens that teens carry, considering how much time they spend there. It says schools can help by providing “safe and trusted” adult mentors and teachers, greater access to mental health services, and enhanced and inclusive health education.