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Teen anxiety is on the rise — especially among girls, LGBTQ youth

Aeva Schifferli, 12, demonstrates a stress-relieving breathing exercise at her mother's yoga studio. (Carolyn Thompson/AP)
Aeva Schifferli, 12, demonstrates a stress-relieving breathing exercise at her mother's yoga studio. (Carolyn Thompson/AP)

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The number of teenage girls who reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” spiked from 36% to 57% over the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly one in three teen girls seriously considered suicide in the last year, the survey found. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson describes teen mental health as “a national crisis.”

The rise of social media coincides with the increase in teen mental health concerns. Studies on the impact of social media and smartphones on teen mental health find these factors play a role — but it’s not clear how big their impact is, Thompson says.

“I think social media very well might be a big part of this picture,” he says, “but I doubt it’s the whole picture.”

Mental health among LGBTQ youth appears to be worsening faster than the national average: Close to 70% of LGBTQ teens experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the last year, the survey found. Despite the acceptance of the LGBTQ community increasing over recent decades, LGBTQ teens still experience a type of bullying an alienation at school that their straight peers don’t, Thompson says.

“I don’t think we have clear answers here,” he says. “We just have clarity in terms of the fact that this is a case where levels of anxiety really are at crisis level.”

Both sides of the political divide are convinced the other is to blame for making teenagers depressed and suicidal, Thompson says.

Liberals say the election of former President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of homophobic and transphobic attitudes in schools that wiped away celebrated legal progress like marriage equality. Conservatives, on the other hand, say liberals’ obsession with victimization and identity is making young people believe they should feel like victims.

“This is a real problem,” he says, “not just a problem for teenagers, but a problem in the way that we talk about this issue because it is so drenched in identity that I don’t see easy ways for us to come together on this.”

Experts say teens need to have a lot of friends, spend time socializing and get enough sleep, Thompson says. But with teens spending more time on social media, they spend less time hanging out and sleeping. Teens today also have fewer friends.

“If all those things are declining, in part because they’re spending so much time online, where, for example, they might face harassment, they might face bullying, they might see a national discourse that thinks that their identity is immoral or is mere victimization,” he says, “then I can absolutely understand why you see these extraordinarily high rates of depression and anxiety.”

Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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