According to a recent report there is a mental health crisis among teen girls. The flurry of recent articles on teen angst was due to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released about a month ago:
…nearly 3 in 5 (57%) U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021—double that of boys, representing a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade.
By contrast, during the 10-year period from 2011 to 2021 teen angst in boys rose from 21% to 29%. It is easy to dismiss these figures as, well, teen angst. However, they are significant when you realize more than one-in four boys and well over half of girls feel sad and hopeless on a persistent basis.
According to Time magazine:
Behaviors linked to depression such as self-harm, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide also increased, especially among girls. For example, the CDC reported in 2017 that emergency-room admissions for self-harm among 10- to 14-year-old girls tripled between 2009 and 2015.
It is not always kids who are failing or unpopular who feel depressed. An anecdote in the Washington Post had this to say:
Now a 17-year-old junior at a public high school in Potomac, Md., Zuba relies on therapy, medication, exercise and coping strategies. She started a mental health club at her high school to support classmates also struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
At the lowest point of her depression, she said, she kept many secrets from her friends, parents and teachers because she felt stuck in her role: a cheerful high achiever who had it all together.
Opening up about mental health can put a dent in college and career. One teen from Wisconsin posted frequently about her mental health journey. When college officials read her posts, she found her opportunity to participate in a college sport that she excels at was no longer available to her.
There are a variety of reasons cited for the growing angst in teen girls. These include Covid, social isolation, loneliness and increased sexual coercion. This from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS):
Previous CDC research has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected girls. And in a 2021 study that our team conducted with 240 teens, 70% of girls said that they “very much” missed seeing people during the pandemic, compared with only 28% of boys reporting that sentiment.
Covid was bad for everyone’s mental health, but it seems there is something else that exerts a negative influence on girls wellbeing. Again, PBS news:
A second factor is social media, which can be a wonderful source of support but also, at times, a crushing blow to the self-esteem and psychological well-being of girls.
A New York Times article from a year ago reported on a survey that found kids were using social media more than ever before. Research by Fox News found that teen girls are spending an average of four (that’s 4) hours a day on social media. (I’m surprised the CDC report from mid-February didn’t find grades were plummeting.)
Social media has taken the digital world by storm — with millions of people interacting online daily.
For teen girls, however, the very strong presence of social media and all the interactions and information it brings can cause major mental health issues.
Fox News found that teen girls are spending about two hours a day (after school) on TikTok and another 90 minutes on Snapchat. A lot of the content girls see is not uplifting.
Although boys were found to be spending significant time online, girls are spending more time on sites with more sensitive content.
Many people are worried that the screen time for girls is more detrimental to their mental health due to the type of content they’re viewing.
Content consumed by a girl may be more body and image-focused, such as make-up tutorials — potentially harming their mental health.
Spending time on social media doesn’t cheer teens up. According to the Child Mind Institute:
In several studies, teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.
There are numerous articles online discussing the connection between teens, social media and depression. It’s hard to discern whether social media is the catalyst that results in depression or if depressed teens seek out social media as a salve against sadness, social isolation or something else. Social media like TikTok is something of a popularity contest where kids compete to get the most subscribers and page views. The same is true for YouTube but content requires more effort than TikTok, which seems to be limited to viewing personal experiences through the lens of a smartphone.