HomeHealth Care News‘Stark’ Decline in Female Students’ Mental Health—Report

‘Stark’ Decline in Female Students’ Mental Health—Report

Mental health declined and harmful behaviors rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among female high school students, states an official report.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) nationwide “Youth Risk Behavior Study,” conducted every two years, found 60 percent of female students suffer from mental health issues, and many experience sexual violence, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies at higher rates than their male peers.

“Across almost all measures of substance use, experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, female students are faring more poorly than male students,” states the report. “These differences, and the rates at which female students are reporting such negative experiences, are stark.”

High School Stats

The study by the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) presents risk behavior data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students.

Tracking 10 years from 2010 to fall 2021, this is the first report of the series that includes data since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and school shutdowns.

The majority of health indicators in the report, including non-protective sexual behaviors, violence, and suicidal thoughts significantly increased in recent years. Nearly 25 percent of female students made suicide plans in the year leading up to 2021. That same year, 57 percent of female high school students reportedly “felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities,” a nearly 20 percent increase since data was collected in 2011.

More females than males made a suicide plan, attempted suicide, and were injured in a suicide attempt in 2021, states the report. More female students than males avoided school due to fear of violence or reported being bullied, raped, or sexually violated. In 2021, nearly 20 percent of female high schoolers experienced sexual violence. Females also used alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs more than their male peers and misused opioids at a higher rate.

Factors: Isolation, Stress

A psychiatrist in private practice, Robert S. Emmons, M.D., a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News, says he has had a historically high influx of young adult patients in recent years.

“I resonate with the results of the survey because in the past three years, I have seen high levels of emotional distress in the young adults in my clinical practice, and they tell me their peers are highly stressed nowadays,” said Emmons.

Social isolation made worse by some public health interventions can lead to despair, Emmons recently told Health Care News. Emmons says he encourages his patients to avoid social media and political news and meet with people face to face.

“My young female patients can contemplate their relationships with men in ways that are more nuanced and complex than the caricatures of what men and women think about each other that appear in media,” said Emmons. “Media reporting makes people appear more ideological and intolerant than they actually are in their private minds.”

Key Connections Lost

School closures over the past two years exacerbated challenges many teenagers face, says Virginia Gentles, Education Freedom Center director at the Independent Women’s Forum.

“The report indicates that school connectedness, or feeling close to people at school, provides a protective impact for adolescents, yet public schools in the country closed for months during the COVID era and shut students out of the athletic and artistic programs and extracurricular activities that connect students to each other and their schools,” said Gentles. “School closures, including extended labor union strikes, must never happen again.”

Gentles says the report misses the mark when it recommends things like safe places and clubs like “Gender-Sexuality Alliance” instead of encouraging students to develop hobbies, skills, and relationships.

“The report authors do not consider the possibility that a student’s mood and connectedness to peers and school could increase more while learning to dance, sing, and act in a school musical, for example, than while sitting in a classroom discussing gender and sexual identities week after week,” said Gentles.

Rethink Social Media

Emmons says he has seen the pervasive influence of social media on his patients.

“As a clinician, I can only intervene one mind or one family system at a time, and these methods have worked for my patients to promote personal wellness,” said Emmons. “In all my years of publicly advocating for the best interests of my patients, I have found that I cannot move systems (social media) that are not aligned with those interests.”

There is plenty of evidence the overuse of technology is dangerous, says Gentles.

“The nation should start taking the investigative reports into how social media harms young women seriously,” said Gentles. “It is irresponsible of policymakers to not investigate further the harms of social media.”

Creating ‘Cognitive Distortions’

Reflecting on the CDC report in Substack on March 9, Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, wrote “cognitive distortions” in today’s political discourse are to blame.

“Many young people had suddenly—around 2013—embraced three great untruths,” wrote Haidt. “They came to believe that they were fragile and would be harmed by books, speakers, and words, which they learned were forms of violence (Great Untruth #1). They came to believe that their emotions—especially their anxieties—were reliable guides to reality (Great Untruth #2). They came to see society as comprised of victims and oppressors—good people and bad people (Great Untruth #3).”

Ashley Bateman (bateman.ae@googlemail.com) writes from Virginia.






Ashley Bateman
Ashley Bateman
Ashley Bateman is a policy reform writer for The Heartland Institute and contributor to The Federalist as well as a blog writer for Ascension Press. Her work has been featured in The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, The New York Post, The American Thinker and numerous other publications. She previously worked as an adjunct scholar for The Lexington Institute and as editor, writer and photographer for The Warner Weekly, a publication for the American military community in Bamberg, Germany. Ashley earned a BA in literature from the College of William and Mary.


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