In mental health terms, which demographic has fared worst in the past decade? Did you guess: adolescent females? If so, you would have been right.
Apparently, all of that women’s liberation has not been so good for their mental health. The statistics are self-reported, but they are striking. Over the decade 37% more teenage girls have suffered episodes of clinical depression.
Johns Hopkins University reports the findings:
The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical depression grew by 37 percent over the decade ending in 2014, with one in six girls reporting an episode in the past year, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests.
The findings, published online Nov. 14 in the journal Pediatrics, highlight a need to focus on the mental well-being of young people and match those in peril with mental health professionals.
Unfortunately, more depression has led to more suicides:
Suicide rates have been increasing in recent years, particularly among adolescent girls and young women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month reported that suicide rates among American middle school students – those aged 10 to 14 – were higher than rates of death from motor vehicle crashes in that age group.
As for the causes of this alarming increase, the researchers are stumped:
The researchers say it is unclear what is driving the rise in major depressive episodes, particularly among girls. They say adolescent girls may have been exposed to a greater degree of depression risk factors in recent years. Cyberbullying, for example, may have increased more in girls, as studies have shown that they use mobile phones more frequently and intensively than boys and problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood.
One has been told, understandably, that Donald Trump will provoke a new era of bullying. And yet, children have been bullying children for the past ten years. It will be devilishly difficult to blame what happened to girls between 2005 and 2014 on Donald Trump.
Of course, the researchers blame it on cell phones. I am sure they also blame it on Facebook and Twitter. This moral abdication has its advantages. It’s always easier to blame it on an inanimate object, one that you can easily destroy with a sledge hammer. If not the object, then the apps that run on it.
Wouldn’t it be more useful to ask about the culture at large? We have transformed our culture. We have changed our culture’s attitude toward young women. We have opened doors and possibilities that young women never had before. We are all cheering the advances. How does it happen that the recipients of all this cultural largesse are clinically depressed?
These are, after all, the most liberated young women on the planet. They have been told that they should go out and express their sexuality freely and openly. They have also been told that they should grow up to be world beaters, CEOs, presidents and infantry soldiers. If you listen to feminists, girls have never had it so good.
How could it happen that, with infinite possibilities opening in front of them, these girls are becoming more depressed and more suicidal? Feminists will say it's all about sexism, but, as the old saying goes, if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail.
I suspect that I do not know the answer any more than anyone else, but that will not prevent me from speculating. It never has before; why should it now?
Let’s see: the current notion that girls can be anything they want and can do anything they want, while powerfully persuasive, ignores the fact that they are girls. Nothing about the current cultural attitude suggests that being a girl is something to enjoy, something to revel in, something to celebrate and something to embrace.
In truth, today’s feminism seems so hell bent on telling girls that they should be just like boys that they might, for all I know, conclude, somewhere in the recesses of their minds, that all of those changes their bodies are undergoing are bad, an obstacle to their fulfillment. This teaches self-loathing, not self-respect.
And then there is this. If girls are told that they must go out in the world and earn a living, that they should be self-supporting, independent and autonomous… they might be hearing that no one will ever want them, that no one will ever take care of them. The message: they are, in this world, on their own. Which is another way of saying: prepare yourself to be alone.
Why would that not be depressing?
It doesn’t stop there. Perhaps the researchers were too modest to say so, but a significant number of teenage girls use their cellphones to send pictures of their naked bodies. In effect, they have adopted a culturally approved attitude and are expressing their sexuality, freely, openly and shamelessly. They have been taught by the culture not to be ashamed of their bodies so they are showing them off… to the boys hockey team. Isn't that what you do when you are in love?
Moreover, if they are being told to become gender neutral or gender nonspecific or even male identified, they might also feel some anxiety over their ability to attract male attention, even to attract the dreaded male gaze? Might they not fear that boys will not like them or want them?
All of the discussion about sexuality these days centers around abuse and rape. Do you think that the girls who hear this believe that sex can be a positive experience in their lives? And, doesn't the hookup culture tell them that there is a special virtue in giving it away for free?
For girls who are unsure of their sexuality, sexting shows the world that they are rally becoming a woman. To be more precise, it tells the world that they are female. Which is not the same thing. And which does not give the same sense of being comfortable in their skins.
What could go wrong?
No child has the maturity to judge what it will feel like when pictures of her nakedness are passed around the school. No girl has a real way to deal with the shame that will befall her when everyone seems to be looking through her clothes and when the other girls—who else?—call her a slut and a whore and God knows what else.
Important thought leaders in our culture are telling young people that they should overcome their sense of shame. These thought leaders and psycho professionals ought to take some responsibility for the spike in depression among teenage girls. Of course, they will not. Their own sense of shamelessness has convinced that they never need to take responsibility and never need to apologize for their errors.
And let’s not forget the stand-up comedians and the politicians who keep telling girls that they are strong and tough and powerful. And other stand-up comedians have made a career out of telling penis and vagina jokes.
In the first place, all the talk about strength is a lie. It is not good to lie to children. Second, if you keep talking about the external genitalia you are giving young people, especially teenage girls, the idea that being vulgar is cool and that shamelessness is a sign of maturity.