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Teens in Crisis: The concerning increase in sadness, depression among teen girls

May 12, 2023, 3:01 PM | Updated: May 14, 2023, 11:48 am

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Aubri Jensen is passionate about dance, football and dinosaurs.

“I love dinosaurs. Oh my gosh!” she enthused.

Aubri, 16, is a student at Bingham High School. She plays football for the Miners and dances for a local studio.

Aubri Jensen, 16, stays very active, but she also struggles with anxiety and depression — something she and her family have been working on since she was about 10 years old. Aubri Jensen, 16, stays very active, but she also struggles with anxiety and depression — something she and her family have been working on since she was about 10 years old. Aubri Jensen, 16, stays very active, but she also struggles with anxiety and depression — something she and her family have been working on since she was about 10 years old. Aubri Jensen, 16, stays very active, but she also struggles with anxiety and depression — something she and her family have been working on since she was about 10 years old.

At first glance, you would never know she lives with anxiety and depression, but it’s something she and her family have worked on together since she was about 10 years old.

“It definitely feels very heavy, like if you were to wear a weighted blanket all the time, everywhere you go,” Aubri said when describing the physical weight of sadness she often carries.

“I get tired doing stuff because my brain is telling me, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ And then it’s like a bunch of LEGOs getting stacked up on each other that are really heavy,” she added.

“There was a lot of dip in energy for her, a dip in motivation,” Aubri’s mother, Tina Jensen, said when reflecting on the first signs of depression. “You could feel the unhappiness.”

For several years, Jensen has helped her daughter manage the emotions with the help of mental health professionals, therapy, and medication. But now, the two are navigating a crisis among teens they never expected.

“I’ve had a couple friends commit suicide the past two/three years because of their mental health, and I know that’s taken a toll on a bunch of my other friends with their mental health and mine,” Aubri said.

According to new trend data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey collected in 2021, teen girls are experiencing the highest levels of sadness and hopelessness ever reported to the YRBS.

The data, collected from more than 17,000 high-school-aged teens (ninth-12th grade) at 152 public schools nationwide, revealed more than 1 in 4 girls reported seriously considering attempting suicide in 2021 — an 11% increase from 2011. More than 1 in 10 girls reported attempting suicide in 2021 — a 3% increase from 2011.

“Since the pandemic, we have seen a big increase in the amount of young people seeking psychiatric care — specifically young women seeking care for suicidal thoughts, self-injury behavior, persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety,” said Dr. Kristin Francis, a psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

Frances said the isolation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic ties directly to the concerning statistics in the survey that teen girls are experiencing today.

“We know that school was interrupted, sports were interrupted, normal daily life was interrupted, people were stressed in ways they’d never been stressed,” Francis said. “Parents lost jobs. People died. Huge, huge changes, and these changes were during a very important part of a young person’s development, and so we just think it was extra hard on young people.”

As an expert in adolescent mental health, Frances said her biggest concern with teen girls is secrecy. She said now more than ever, teen girls need a safe space to share their feelings.

“We want to help you know that these deep feelings are a strength and they’re not something you should be embarrassed by, and you don’t have to hurt yourself or hurt other people or push people away. You can experience these strong feelings safely,” Francis said. “And later, you’re going to learn that they’re your superpower — basically, you are an empath, you can help people, makes you a great helper.”

By being open with her mom about feeling anxious and depressed, Aubri has learned tools to manage her emotions. She colors when she’s sad, and her therapist has given her sensory bracelets for those stressful moments at school. She also stays active, letting friends and coaches know when she’s having a hard day.

“When I go to practice for dance, track, football, anything I’m doing, it’s a nice place to just release everything that is going on,” Aubri said.

The journey hasn’t been easy for Aubri, and it’s far from over. But by taking it one day at a time and putting in the work, she knows the feelings of stress and sadness won’t define her.

“I’m not perfect yet, no one is, but I’ve just got to work on it every day and find ways to feel better, because every day feels different, and so when there are the harder days, I have to put in more work and think about it more to help myself than when I have easy days and I feel perfectly fine,” she said.

Aubri hopes that by sharing her experience of living with anxiety and depression, she can help other young women know that they’re not alone and that help is available.

“If someone else out there is going through the same thing but is scared to say something because they feel like, ‘I’m the only one that feels like this,’ then I feel like it’s giving them someone they can relate to and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone.’”

For the full CDC report, click here.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

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Teens in Crisis: The concerning increase in sadness, depression among teen girls