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Depression in Teenage Girls

And What We Can do to Help

The CDC updated a report on March 9, 2023. The published data was collected in fall 2021 among a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students.

Here are the startling statistics about depression in our nation’s teenage girls:

  • 57% experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. That’s over half of the girls surveyed, almost 3 out of every 5 girls. When the data was collected in 2011, this statistic was only 36%.

  • 30% had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, almost 1 in 3. In 2011, this statistic was 19%.

  • 24% had made a suicide plan.

  • 13% attempted suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens, accounting for 17% of deaths in 10-14 year-olds and 22% of deaths in 15-19 year-olds in 2019.

I love math. I love numbers. But I hate these numbers. These statistics represent very real teens ... teens in our circle of influence, our daughters, our nieces, our granddaughters, our friends’ daughters, our neighbors. These are real girls, and they are really struggling.

If I had been a part of the nationally representative sample during my high school years, my name would have contributed to the statistics. My struggle started when I was 13. I was depressed. I had suicidal ideations.

And no one knew. I was very good at “faking good.”

Over time, I have seen improvements in the way our society talks about mental health, anxiety, and depression.

Yet, teen girls are still struggling. They feel alone, unloved, unseen, unvalued, and hopeless.

What can we do?

Church, what can we do? How do we love our little sisters in Christ?

I have worked in youth ministry since I was 25 years old. I had no qualifications to work with teens. I had no desire to help with the youth group. In fact, teen girls especially terrified me. I didn’t have many close female friends as a teen, and I didn’t like the thought of potentially being judged by these high school students. But my new husband wanted to help with the youth, and I wanted to serve with him, so on Wednesday night, into the youth group we went…

And you know what I discovered? I discovered my passion. (Well, not that first night. That first night, I probably discovered a lot of awkward glances and sad attempts at small talk, but eventually, I discovered my passion!)

Do you know how cool teenagers are? Do you know how talented and capable they are? Do you know how beautiful their hearts are? Do you know how much fun they are? Do you know how hard high school is? Do you know how much things have changed since we were in high school? Do you know how brave these teens are? Do you know how profound their thoughts can be?

Do you know how much they yearn for connection?

Do you know much they desire to be seen, valued, and loved?

If you have a teen in your life, building a relationship with them takes intentionality. It takes purposeful connection. You can’t force a teen into relationship with you, but you can show up. You can be available. You can share your own struggles. You can be authentic. You can give them space to feel. You can see them for who they really are and show them the value you see in them.

You can point them to Jesus.

In the context of relationship, you can ask them how they are doing. And when they respond with “fine,” you can look them in the eyes and say, “I can tell you’re not fine, and it’s okay if you’re not ready to talk about it. But I’m here when you want to talk.”

Teens are lonelier than ever before. We need to make it a part of our family culture to welcome our teens into relationship with us, to make time together as a family a priority and a routine, to find joy in the things they enjoy. We need to bring back family dinners, game nights, and movie nights. We need to live in connectivity, not isolation.

We need to have real conversations about phone use, about social media, about friendships, about dating, and about finding their identity in Christ.

We need to be there for their questions, their doubts, and all of their emotions. We need to listen without overreacting. We need to choose to love.

As a church, we need to stop believing that teens are the future of our church, and start believing they are the present of the church. They are the church. They are a part of this body of Christ. We need to ground them in truth and equip them with the tools they need to fight the good fight right here, right now.

Our teens don’t need shallow dips into pat answers, clichés, or Christian platitudes; they need deep dives into the hard truth and real love of sincere Christianity, following Jesus’ example of sacrifice and surrender. They need to know why we believe what we believe, and what that looks like in our real lives.

The statistics are overwhelming, but we are not without hope. We can take small, practical steps to make a difference in our teens’ lives. We can allow God to love our teens through us. We can walk through their struggles with them.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Interested in learning more? Check out these resources!

  • Download this Crisis Mode: 3 Things You Can do to Help Your Teen With Mental Health by OneHope.

  • Go to the Axis website to find ways to connect parents, teens, and Jesus in a disconnected world.

  • Visit the RemedyLIVE website which specializes in mental health resources for teens and features a 24-hour mental health chat center specifically for teens.

  • For suicide prevention, visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

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