The American health authorities sounded the alarm on Monday in the face of very worrying figures concerning the mental health of students, especially young girls, in a report analyzing developments in this area over 10 years.
Nearly one in three college students (30%) have seriously considered suicide in 2021, up from 19% in 2011, according to this report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s top federal health agency. .
Almost three in five young girls (57%) felt sad or hopeless in 2021 over a period of at least two weeks, leading them to interrupt their usual activities. This figure, which is about double that of boys, is a ten-year high. In 2011, only 36% of girls said the same thing.
“America’s teenage girls are overwhelmed by a growing wave of sadness, violence and trauma,” CDC official Debra Houry said at a press conference. “This data is hard to hear, and should lead to action,” she added.
One in five teenage girls (18%) experienced sexual violence in 2021, and more than one in ten (14%) had sex forced upon them, according to the report.
“It’s very alarming,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s department of adolescent and school health. “For every ten teenage girls you know of, at least one, and probably more, has been raped. This tragedy cannot continue.”
In addition to girls, the report also highlights worrying figures for LGBT+ students. Nearly 70% of them felt a lingering emotion of sadness or despair in 2021, and more than one in five (22%) attempted suicide.
These data come from a questionnaire completed every two years by high school students in the United States (between the ages of 15 and 18 approximately).
At the time the most recent data was collected, in the fall of 2021, most schools were reopened after closures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the daily lives of young people remained partly disrupted.
Other studies have shown the detrimental impact of the pandemic on adolescent mental health. The report points out, however, that this trend had begun before the arrival of the virus.
“The pandemic-related social isolation has certainly made things worse,” said Kathleen Ethier.
But “there is not just one factor leading to this”, underlined Debra Houry, also citing social networks and “sources of stress at school”.
The two leaders stressed the immediate need to provide help to these young people, in particular through prevention programs at school.
“Schools are really on the front line of this mental health crisis,” said Kathleen Ethier. A first step “is to ensure that teachers are trained to deal with these problems”.
Ms. Houry also pointed out that the CDC funds rape prevention and awareness programs in nearly every US state.
The authorities finally recalled the existence of a hotline against suicide for people in distress in the United States, 988.
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