Results from the CDC’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey recently published show a disturbing trend. Almost 3 in 5 adolescent girls (57%) said they felt “persistently sad or hopeless” – the highest rate in a decade. And 30% of girls said they have seriously considered dying by suicide — a number that’s risen 60% over the past 10 years. The survey, which has been conducted every two years for 30 years, includes responses from 17,232 high school students in the U.S. When researchers looked at gender differences girls were fairing especially poorly compared to boys. However, there were a few reasons to be optimistic as alcohol and marijuana use continues to decline among teenagers compared to a decade earlier in 2011. NBC News interviewed nine girls about the CDC’s findings. These girls suggested social media comparison, the Pandemic, school shootings and gender discrimination were behind these alarming numbers. They also suggested there is considerably less stigma about mental health in their generation so teenagers are comfortable talking about it openly and possibly reporting it to the CDC.
In the 6 months after launch the 988 Mental Health and Suicide Line has recorded over 2 million calls, text and chat messages. It could not come at a more ideal time as depression rates among children and adults continue to rise. The volume is more than officials could have anticipated and has led to an expansion of it’s services to unique demographic groups. The flood of calls and text messages suggests people are connecting to supports and services rather than struggling on their own which is reason for optimism! The original $1 Billion in federal funding approved by Congress has helped more people than expected so my hope is that it continues to expand. With the beginning of the new year the line is already experiencing a 30% increase from 2022.
Today the National Suicide and Crisis hotline changes its number to 988 to make the system more accessible. One can text or call this number and be routed to a mental health counselor within 60-90 seconds. There is hope that this is the beginning of a bigger push for mental health care access, especially in Texas. Mental Health America ranked Texas last in the U.S. for access to such care in 2022. Each year, more people die by suicide in the U.S. than in car crashes. I am relieved and encouraged by this transition because it comes at a time when more people are experiencing mental health crises.
From 2009 to 2021 the percent of high school students reporting “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent according to a CDC study. This is the highest level of sadness ever recorded. Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic after analyzing CDC data that almost every measure of mental health is getting worse, for every teenage demographic and it’s happening all over the country. However, sadness among white teens is rising faster than among other groups. He proposes four reasons for these increases: social-media use, sociality is down, the world is stressful and there is more news about these stressors and modern parenting strategies. The world is overwhelming to not only teens but for moms and dads as well. These societal trends amplified by a global pandemic and social isolation makes the dramatic rise in teenage sadness not that mysterious or surprising.
New research indicates suicidal thoughts are on the rise among teens and young adults. The February 3rd issue of the Wall Street Journal (Apple News) recently published a great article titled “What Parents Can Do When Kids Have Suicidal Thoughts” by Andrea Petersen. Undoubtedly this trend has grown during the pandemic. A June 2020 survey reported that 25.5% of 18-24 year olds had seriously considered suicide during the last 30 days. Weekly emergency room visits for suspected suicide rose 50.6% among 12-17 year old girls in March 2021 when compared to the same period in 2019. Certain behaviors are linked to an imminent risk of a child’s suicide attempt which includes a sharp rise in the time spent at home and a dramatic increase in the use of negative words in texts and social-media posts. Most kids don’t act on those thoughts but we can better understand those most at risk and what we can do to help. Parents can reduce risk by openly asking teens about their feelings. A conversation you should have many times. Warning signs to take seriously include increased alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from usual activities, changes in sleep patterns and other behavioral changes.
Teenage social media use and mental health has received a great deal of attention and scrutiny. However, a recent large-scale study also links social media use and depression among adults. We’re experiencing a mental health crisis where one-third of adults in the U.S. are depressed according to an October study. This number is up from 8.5% before the pandemic. For this recent research over 5000 adults’ social media habits were studied for one year. Adults using FaceBook, SnapChat, Instagram and TikTok with an average age of 56 were substantially more likely to report depression. It’s no surprise social media use has increased during the pandemic. Experts agree our brains were not meant for this type of interpersonal interaction. Social media has hijacked the need for socializing with something artificial and insufficient.
Hope everyone has a great start to the new school year! Here’s my College Freshman and High School Freshman.
Congrats to all the high school and college graduates! You know who you are. I am thrilled, proud and blessed to be a small part of your journey. My daughter punched her ticket and is headed to college in the Fall. I couldn’t love her anymore than I do. The future is going to be a great adventure. “People’s lives testify to their beliefs as much or more than their words.”