This photo shows the 988helpline.org website that offers psychological support, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick
The coronavirus pandemic has had serious consequences for the mental health of adolescent girls in the United States, with nearly 60% of them reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to a government survey released Monday that reinforces previous data.
Sexual violence, suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, and other mental health problems affected many adolescents regardless of race or ethnicity, but girls and young people in the LGBTQ community were the most affected in most settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 17,000 high school students across the country were surveyed during their fall 2021 classes.
In 30 years of collecting similar data, “we’ve never seen these kinds of devastating and consistent findings,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health. “There is no doubt that young people are telling us that they are in crisis. The data really tells us to act.”
The study found that:
-Among girls, 30% said they had seriously considered committing suicide, double that among boys and almost 60% more than a decade ago.
-Almost 20% of girls reported having suffered rape or other types of sexual violence in the previous year, which also represents an increase compared to previous years.
-Nearly half of students from the LGBTQ community said they had seriously considered attempting suicide.
-More than a quarter of American Indians and Alaska Natives said they had seriously considered committing suicide, more than other races and ethnic groups.
-Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness affected more than a third of teens of all races and ethnicities, and were up from previous years.
-Half of LGBTQ youth and nearly a third of American Indian and Alaska Native youth reported poor mental health.
The results are similar to those found by previous surveys and reports, and many of the trends began before the coronavirus pandemic. But isolation, remote classes and increased use of social media during the pandemic have made things worse for many young people, mental health experts say.
The results “reflect many decades of neglect in mental health, especially for children,” said Mitch Prinstein, chief scientific officer for the American Psychological Association. “For decades, suicide has been the second or third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24,” and attempts tend to be more frequent among girls, he added.
Prinstein said anxiety and depression tend to be more common among girls than boys, and the isolation caused by the pandemic may have exacerbated that.
Comprehensive reform is needed in the way society handles mental health, Prinstein said. Schools should teach young people ways to manage stress and conflict, just as they teach them how to exercise to prevent physical illness, she added.
In low-income areas, where adverse childhood experiences were high before the pandemic, the crisis has been compounded by shortages of school staff and mental health professionals, experts say.
School districts across the country have used federal pandemic money to hire more mental health specialists, if they can find them, but say they are stretched thin and students who need specialized care outside of school are often often they can’t get it because therapists are overburdened and have long waiting lists.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Lindsey Tanner is on Twitter as: @LindseyTanner.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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