As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, I thought about how the mental health crisis among teen girls is getting more attention from researchers.
This past semester, one of my female students in my beginning English composition class researched how high percentages of teenage girls still suffer from depression and anxiety, citing statistics from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’ve found that since I started including mental health as part of my Gen Z course theme, this topic has particularly caught the interest of my female students, who have often shared personal stories of their own struggles alongside the emotional struggles of their friends . It is quite obvious that this is a very difficult time for teenage girls to grow up, which is also true for their male peers.
Donna St. George, Katherine Reynolds Lewis and Lindsey Bever focused specifically on the dilemma of girls’ mental health and published an article titled “The crisis in American girlhood” in February in The Washington Post. My student used this article as one of her main resources, and it was both informative and disturbing to read. George, Reynolds and Bever mention how teens are very good at “internalizing conflict, stress and anxiety” and gave personal examples of girls explaining the links between peer pressure and loneliness with influence on social media. The more serious examples were suicide and self-harm.
In the past three years I have learned a lot from my students about the influence of social media and the addictions to apps like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. My female students have shared that they believe social media has more negative effects on girls, which research supports.
In her 2017 book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us,” Jean Twenge points out that since girls social media more than boys, girls suffer more from “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and “verbal aggression”.
Twenge also tracked differences in happiness levels between generations and found that iGen, also known as Gen Z, began to feel more depressed around 2011. This statistic in Twenge’s book has always stood out to me because she considers millennials to be the last generation to have content as teens, writing that with “iGen… teen happiness began to wane from its millennial exuberance.”
I agree with Twenge’s assessment, but I also think the social pressures experienced by millennials who were teenagers in the early 2000s foreshadowed what Gen Zs are going through right now. There’s a scene in the 2000 movie “Seventeen Again” with the Mowry twins, Tia and Tamera, that is a perfect illustration of this.
Although it’s a comedy with a plot where grandparents turn 17 through the use of soap contaminated with mysterious chemicals from their grandson’s experiments, a serious exchange between Tia’s character Sydney and her suddenly 17-year-old grandmother, Cat, is played out. by Tamara. Sydney exclaims to Cat that someone from her grandmother’s generation would never understand what it’s like to be as beautiful and thin as models in magazines or as hip as women in music videos. Fast forward to today, and Gen Z girls are inundated with images and posts from models and young women who are social media influencers.
In reflecting on two additional essays by former female students on mental health, they took a unique approach to analyzing this crisis from a faith-based perspective. One student focused on how attending church and participating in activities such as choir and Bible study helped her confidence and enabled her to build meaningful friendships.
The other student I’ll mention by name, Kalie Klett, is the author of the book “Destined for Greatness: 21-Day Devotional for the Broken Hearted” published in 2020. Klett’s book is her testimony of how God made her through some harsh and difficult situations experienced by many young people. I am hopeful that more research will be published on how faith in God has helped both girls and boys overcome their emotional challenges, and how their faith in Christ strengthens their spirits when they face mental challenges.
Mental health experts have maintained that we simply cannot treat or “self-care” teens out of this mental health crisis. More testimonials from young women like Klett would be a blessing to so many girls who feel their situation is hopeless.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the Department of English at Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her up [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.