For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
black family with two parents and two children sitting together and smiling

Teen Girls & Mental Health Crisis

Fri, 03/10/2023 - 11:19

Families, Inc.'s Jonesboro School Based Clinical Supervisor, Destiny McGee, was recently featured on KFIN's Breakfast Club to discuss the mental health crisis and how it affects teen girls. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

Q: Let’s start by going over exactly what the recent report by the CDC shared. 

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control shared a study titled ‘Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021.’ The focus areas included sexual behavior, substance use, experiencing violence, mental health, and suicidality among high school students in the US.

The main point that’s been circulating on news platforms such as The Today Show, The New York Times, etc. relates to adolescent girls reported “record levels” of sadness. 

You can read the full report here.

Q: Wow, so let’s break that down a little more. What did the data show for teenagers?

“As we saw in the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health among students overall continues to worsen, with more than 40% of high school students feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the previous year – a possible indication of the experience of depressive symptoms. We also saw significant increases in the percentage of youth who seriously considered suicide, made a suicide plan, and attempted suicide.” (CDC, YRBS Data Summary & Trends Report 2023)

Specifically, the report states: 

“Across almost all measures of substance use, experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, female students are faring more poorly than male students. These differences, and the rates at which female students are reporting such negative experiences, are stark.” (CDC, YRBS Data Summary & Trends Report 2023)

Q: Those first stats about mental health worsening are really concerning. What might parents want to know?

Unfortunately, for nearly all students across gender and racial groups, mental health has worsened over the past ten years – especially in 2021. Female and LGBTQ+ students, and any students that identified as having a same-sex partner, had even worse statistics. 

Some of the data looked into students’ depressive episodes: “In 2021, 42% of high school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities. Female students were more likely than male students to experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” 

The CDC also stated that “In 2021, 29% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the past 30 days. Female students were more likely than male students to experience poor mental health.” 

I think parents should keep these statistics in mind so they can begin to recognize the signs and symptoms within their own children – especially if you have children in the adolescent age range – you’ll want to be even more aware. 

Q: So, how does that compare to what “depression” is as a diagnosis?

That’s a really good question. As mental health professionals, we’d diagnose a depressive episode by identifying at least 5 of the following symptoms in an individual during the same 2-week period:

Note: symptoms must be a change from previous functioning and should be excluded if directly attributable to another medical condition.

  • Depressed Mood
    • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness 
    • Irritable mood
    • Persists for most of the day, nearly every day
    • Symptoms can be observed by others (e.g. child is tearful, noticeably down)
  • Loss of Interest/Pleasure
    • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all (or almost all) activities 
    • Persists for most of the day, nearly every day
    • Symptoms can be observed by others (e.g. child is unusually despondent)
  • Weight Loss or Gain
    • Significant weight loss (without dieting)
    • Significant weight gain (increase of >5% body weight in a month)
    • Change in appetite nearly every day
    • In growing children, failure to gain weight as expected
  • Insomnia or Hypersomnia
    • Trouble falling or staying asleep
    • Sleeping longer than usual, excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Psychomotor Agitation or Retardation
    • Restlessness and anxiety that leads to compulsive, repetitive movements
    • Occurs nearly every day
      • Can be observed by others (not merely subjectively restless or slow)
  • Fatigue
    • Low energy, constant lethargy during the day
    • Occurs nearly every day
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Excessive/Unfounded Guilt
    • Feeling insignificant 
    • Undeserved guilt, often delusional (more than self-reproach or guilt about being sick)
  • Inability to Concentrate
    • Trouble focusing throughout the day
    • Indecisiveness 
    • Occurs nearly every day
    • Can be subjective or observed by others
  • Thoughts of Death/Suicidal Ideation
    • Recurrent thoughts of death (more than just a fear of dying)
    • Recurrent suicidal ideation (without specific plan or suicide attempt)

Parents should keep a look out for these signs and talk to their kids about them – especially parents of teenage girls. 

Q: What about suicide? I know that’s really hard to think about, let alone talk about as parents. 

Oh, absolutely. It is so scary to think about our kids in schools being at such a high risk of suicide. Unfortunately, the statistics are very concerning, and that old idea that talking about it puts the idea in someone’s mind is just NOT true.

It is SO much more helpful for parents to start identifying warning signs and risk factors and address them head-on. Just the act of noticing what your child is feeling and going through – acknowledging it, validating it, and getting them help is PROOF that you care. It can genuinely save lives. 

The statistics showed that more than 1 in 4 teen girls had seriously considered attempting suicide. 30%. 

Q: Wow, this is a lot. I’m sure that parents listening may want to know what can they do?

For sure. I don’t want anyone to tune out and think that there aren’t ways to help! There are. And we, as adults, can start by really learning about these factors and committing to offering a safe space for teens to come to. 

Parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches can start by paying close attention to stressors that teens may experience: 

  • Problems at home
  • Substance abuse
  • Relationship risk factors or stressors (think a breakup, drama among friends, bullying, and other peer issues)
  • Any type of victimization or violence (which, unfortunately, teenage girls had high reports of)

As a responsible adult in a teen’s life, if you recognize some of these signs - get help. 

You can dial 988 to reach the national suicide and crisis lifeline. A local emergency room or mental health agency can also help to provide a screening if there is immediate danger.

Q: That’s really great to know! What if the teen isn’t in immediate danger, what ways can parents start to talk about these things with their kids? 

Absolutely – prevention is going to be the best way that we can start making real change. Talk about it. Talk about mental health, feelings, suicide, stress in the child’s life. Pay attention. Watch for signs that we talked about earlier. 
Help the child feel connected. Isolation is often our go-to when depressed, but we need connection the most. 

Monitor social media use and substance use. Pay attention to relationships – friendships, dating among teens, etc. 
Say things like, “You don’t seem like yourself lately. I’ve noticed you seem more sad or down.” Or, “I noticed you haven’t been spending as much time with your friends lately. Is everything okay?”

I love thinking about the PLEASE acronym that we discuss in therapy. Parents can think about:

P - Physical ILlness: (how do they seem physically – headaches, stomachaches, etc.) 
E - Eating Habits: Are they not eating much or overeating? 
A - Altering Drug: Pay close attention to substance use (vapes, alcohol, marijuana, pills, etc.) 
S - Sleep: Are they sleeping too much or too little?
E - Exercise: Are they getting adequate exercise?  

Sometimes the best thing you can do is get your child moving: sports, take a family walk, go play a fun game together, etc. 

Also, consider protective factors, which are the exact opposite of risk factors. These are the resiliency factors that we want to continue to promote and build. 

Some of those are just having someone safe to talk to that they feel connected to, access to mental health care, restricted access to lethal means, and more.

Q: Are there things that we can do at home to make sure our house is as safe as possible for when teens are feeling this way? 

Definitely! Adopting a general home safety plan can be super helpful for your home if you have teens. It’s important to monitor sharps (razors, scissors, knives, etc.), medications, substances, and firearms. 

Keeping a close monitor on these, as well as working with a mental health provider for a more in-depth and individualized safety plan for your child specifically, can literally be life-saving. 

If your child isn’t receiving mental health services and some of these things have resonated with you, I highly suggest looking into it. Also, if your child is receiving services, make sure that you’re aware of the crisis protocol, such as an after-hours crisis hotline. 

Families, Inc. Counseling Services can help. Call 870.933.6886 or visit our website to request a services referral form


We would love your feedback!