According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of high school students who reported feeling consistently sad and hopeless has increased significantly. Between 2008 and 2019, the percentage went from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3. By the arrival of fall 2021, a staggering 42% of high school students had experienced these feelings, with nearly 60% of them being girls.
The report highlighted significant ongoing distress among teenagers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+).In a shocking revelation, the CDC’s 2021 data also indicated that as many as a quarter of teenage girls had made actual plans for suicide.
The recently collected data reveals a worrisome decline in the overall health and well-being of both boys and girls, when compared to similar survey data gathered in 2011.The teenagers who were surveyed spoke about increasing challenges related to mental health, instances of violence, and thoughts and behaviors related to suicide.
Dr. Debra Houry, MD, MPH, the CDC’s chief medical officer and deputy director for program and science, expressed concern in a press release, stating, “High school should be a time for making one’s mark, not enduring trauma. These findings underscore the urgent need for greater support to help our youth manage, find hope, and flourish.”
Various complex factors contribute to putting young people at a heightened risk for serious issues like depression, substance use disorders, academic struggles, and other severe consequences.
Causes Behind this Disturbing Rise
The reasons for feeling down or going through depression aren’t always straightforward. Experts believe that depression’s origins are intricate and can stem from multiple factors, including elements beyond our control, like genetics, brain chemistry, hormones, trauma, and more.
Adolescents as a whole encounter various challenges that might contribute to, or heighten the risk of, depression. These can encompass:
- Negative Impact of Social Media
- Academic pressures
- Traumatic experiences, including physical or sexual abuse
- Struggles with self-esteem
The development of a teenager’s identity is greatly influenced by their peers, as they build healthy friendships and navigate romantic relationships. In the midst of refining their social skills, bullying can become a daily reality. Roughly 20% of students aged 12 to 18 report instances of bullying.
While most instances involve spreading rumors, common issues also include mockery, physical aggression, and property damage. Studies have connected being bullied to a higher likelihood of experiencing depression, and research suggests that adolescent bullying can even affect brain development.
2. Negative Impact of Social Media
Social media can be a positive tool. Most teens use it to connect, share facets of their lives, and stay in touch with family and friends. Regrettably, social media’s influence on teenagers isn’t always positive.
It can disrupt sleep, lead to cyberbullying, fuel peer pressure, create unrealistic expectations, and more. Social media not only keeps teens connected but many report feeling addicted, constantly checking platforms, and overthinking. A study delved into the effects of teenage social media use, revealing that those who spent more time on social media, particularly at night, had higher levels of depression and poorer sleep.
3. Academic Pressure
The pressure to excel in school comes from many sources. Involvement in sports or other extracurricular activities can also lead to increased stress. Students under academic pressure face a 2.4 times higher risk of experiencing depression compared to those without such tension.
A significant number of teens go through traumatic experiences, which can manifest in different forms, including neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Studies indicate that around 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys undergo at least one traumatic event. The mental health aftermath of trauma can emerge regardless of the type, severity, or frequency of the abuse.
For instance, current research strongly associates emotional abuse with depression.
4 Key Strategies for Enhancing Students' Health and Well-Being
The youth in America are collectively facing a level of stress and turmoil that demands action. This report focuses on a specific set of questions from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) that indicate the well-being and health status of young individuals. These questions share common factors that schools can influence to safeguard young people from these threats.
While the primary objective of schools is to facilitate academic learning, they also wield a crucial role in molding mental, physical, and social development. Over 95% of children and teenagers in the United States spend a significant portion of their daily lives in school. This presents a substantial opportunity to nurture the knowledge, skills, and support required to prevent and mitigate the adverse effects of violence, and trauma, and bolster mental health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have pinpointed and endorsed a range of evidence-backed activities that can substantially impact the lives of adolescents with a relatively modest injection of support into our educational institutions. Assisting schools in their endeavors to reverse these unfavorable trends and ensuring that young people receive the necessary support for their well-being and success will demand time, collaboration, and resources. The ensuing actions can contribute to ensuring achievement in this endeavor:
1. Fostering a sense of care, support, and belonging among all students at school
This approach, known as “school connectedness,” boasts well-established health benefits that can extend beyond the teenage years. Nonetheless, students who are racial or ethnic minorities, encounter racism or identify as LGBTQ+ frequently experience a lesser sense of connection within the school environment.
Effective initiatives involve providing dependable and trusted adults like mentors or trained educators, as well as connecting adolescents with their peers and communities through clubs and community outreach. These programs reassure young individuals that they are valued and not isolated.
2. Implementing a robust Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum
SEL enhances students’ emotional intelligence, equipping them to handle fresh challenges. A strong SEL curriculum even aids students in finding their peer groups, enabling them to flourish.
3. Enhancing access to crucial health services
Make sure the school has mental health and substance use prevention services. It could be on-site or through links to community-based care providers.
4. Introduce high-quality health education
Share medically accurate, culturally sensitive, inclusive of LGBTQ+ perspectives, and firmly grounded in scientific principles. This type of education can aid in curbing violence and lessening mental health difficulties by arming teenagers with essential knowledge and skills, such as navigating consent, managing emotions, and recognizing when to seek help.
Recognizing the critical role schools play in shaping not only academic learning but also mental, physical, and social growth underscores the importance of taking action. Through fostering a sense of belonging, implementing effective Social Emotional Learning, increasing access to essential health services, and providing comprehensive health education, we can collectively work towards reversing negative trends and ensuring the well-being and thriving of our young generation.