Teenage girls report a lot of grief and sexual violence

aNearly three in five U.S. teenage girls reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2021, the highest level in a decade and nearly twice that of teenage boys.

According to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, rates of reported sexual assault and suicide risk among teen girls rose in the same year. At least one in 10 girls in high school said they had been forced to have sex at some point, a 27% increase since a survey two years earlier and the first increase since the CDC began registering the measure in 2001. Nearly a third of girls said they were seriously considering attempting suicide, a 60% increase since 2011.

Rising rates of stress and harm are particularly concerning as some states crack down on women’s access to reproductive services in the wake of the Supreme Court’s revocation of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion . The CDC said it continues to monitor states to ensure victims of sexual assault have access to needed services, said Kathleen Ethier, the director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

read more: For teens, saving each other from social media is a team effort

The CDC, which has conducted the youth survey every two years for three decades, was “overwhelmed” by the levels of violence and trauma seen in the latest round, especially among girls and LGBTQ youth, Ethier said.

The CDC collected the responses of high school students in the fall of 2021. While teen mental health generally deteriorated during the pandemic, the differences between girls and boys were stark, according to the report.

“I don’t think this is anything we’ve seen before,” Ethier said. “It’s just awful to think about the young women in our lives that we know.”

Survey findings

Findings from the study include:

  • 57% of teenage girls reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2021
  • 30% reported contemplating suicide
  • 18% have experienced sexual violence
  • 14% reported having been forced to have sex at some point.

More than one in five LGBTQ teens reported attempting suicide in the past year, the CDC report found. The results add to other recent reports showing worsening rates of depression and anxiety among young LGBTQ people in the US at a time when nearly one in five high school students do not identify as heterosexual.

The relative isolation caused by COVID has had a huge impact on young people’s mental health, exacerbating pre-pandemic trends. Overall, more than 40% of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they were unable to participate in their regular activities for at least two weeks in the past year, the CDC survey found.

Younger and younger children also feel the effects. Last year, the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent expert panel that guides US health recommendations, said all children ages 8 and older should be screened for anxiety.

Next steps

Addressing the growing mental health crisis in the country has become a higher priority for both the Biden administration and Congress. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded nearly $245 million in Bipartisan Safer Communities Act funding to support youth mental health programs.

read more: There’s a new number to call for mental health crises: 988

Others are focusing on what they believe is the source of the crisis: social media. Last month, the Seattle City School District filed a new lawsuit against Alphabet Inc., Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. and other tech companies, alleging that social media contributes to college students’ anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. Similar claims were made last year by families, including more than a dozen who blamed tech companies for suicides. Alphabet has responded to the Seattle lawsuit by saying it is invested in creating safe experiences for children and is prioritizing their well-being.

The CDC said it is helping schools create more support services and educational programs aimed at teaching students about sexual consent and managing emotions. The agency is working with school districts across the country to create curricula that are inclusive, culturally competent and that meet the broad range of needs of young students, Ethier said.

“School activities can make a big difference in teens’ lives with a relatively small amount of support,” the agency said in a statement.

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Teenage girls report a lot of grief and sexual violence

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