The teen mental health crisis mystery

Become smarter in just 5 minutes Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed and entertained, for free. Note: This article describes self-harm, depression, and suicide among US teens. Here are resources for those dealing with these issues. America’s youth are in the midst of […]

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Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed and entertained, for free.

Note: This article describes self-harm, depression, and suicide among US teens. Here are resources for those dealing with these issues.

America’s youth are in the midst of a spiking mental health crisis, and public health experts are racing to identify the root causes before it gets even worse.

First, the stats: Between 2009 and 2021, the share of American high school students who said they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” jumped from 26% to a record 44%, per a new CDC study. For adolescents ages 10 to 19, emergency room visits for self-harm jumped 88% from 2001 to 2019.

Recent reports from the NYT and The Atlantic examined the issue of worsening mental health among American youth. Here are some takeaways:

It was happening before the pandemic. The mental health crisis isn’t just a Covid lockdown story. By 2018, suicide rates for people aged 10–24 jumped almost 60% after plateauing from 2000 to 2007. And the share of adolescents reporting a major depressive episode jumped 60% between 2007 and 2019.

The pandemic did make it worse. Covid, and resulting restrictions on socializing, took rising feelings of loneliness and depression and supercharged them. Citing a “shocking” 45% increase in the number of self-injury and suicide cases in 5- to 17-year-olds in the first half of 2021, a coalition of children’s hopsitals and physicians urged Congress to “treat this mental health crisis like the emergency it is.”

The connection to social media isn’t clear. Much criticism has been heaped upon social media companies for fueling the teen mental health crisis. But a large study of more than 84,000 people of all ages in Britain found that the relationship between social media use and teen well-being was “fairly weak,” according to the NYT. However, heavy social media use does generate lower reports of life satisfaction at certain ages: 11–13 for girls, 14–15 for boys, and again at age 19 for both sexes.

Big picture: What makes the crisis so perplexing is that, by some behavioral measures, high schoolers are doing a lot better than they used to. Cigarette use has plunged. Binge drinking is down. The use of illicit drugs, such as OxyContin, has nose-dived over the past few decades. So has the teen birthrate. The public health threats for teens that were top-of-mind in previous decades have given way to a slew of new risks that may work together—and reinforce each other—in ways researchers are still trying to understand.

https://www.morningbrew.com/daily/stories/2022/04/24/the-teen-mental-health-crisis-mystery

Dong Anker

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