ATLANTA — The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds teen girls are experiencing record high levels of sadness and violence.
The report said 57% of teen girls in the U.S. said they felt “sad or hopeless” in 2021. The percentage is about twice that of boys, and represents around a 60% increase from a decade earlier. The number of teen girls experiencing sexual violence also rose 20% between 2017 and 2021.
Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, child psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente, said the pandemic exacerbated what were already ongoing problems.
“The isolation and stress from the pandemic really took a toll on mental health,” Patton-Smith observed. “This led to increased depression, increased anxiety, rise in domestic violence. And so, it really just showed that long-term impact of trauma increases depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.”
In order to reverse the trend in individual households, Patton-Smith suggested parents need to check in often with their kids, and have open and honest conversations to ensure they feel like they belong and can share their thoughts.
She noted one misconception is if a child is isolated, moody or sullen, it’s just “teenage angst.” She warned if it is persistent, and teens are not doing things to take care of themselves, it could be the sign of something distressing.
Aside from the pandemic, doctors feel numerous factors have contributed to young people’s mental health declines.
Dr. Christina Brown, pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente, finds the growth of social media, online games and smartphones are factors as well. She cautioned children and teens to look beyond their screens as a way to help maintain good mental health.
“Finding things that bring them joy —getting out into the world, into nature, doing service projects — seeing the bigger picture, not just what’s right in front of them in their high school world,” Brown advised.
Brown added families should not hesitate to reach out to guidance counselors, pediatricians and teachers if they have concerns about a teen’s mental health.