An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

teens helping and hugging mental health

An epidemic of teen depression (and what to do about it)

Key Takeaways:

  • In the last 10 years, the number of teens identifying as having “experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” doubled.
  • School connectedness was a key barometer of how well teens fared mentally.
  • Teens tend to be more isolated than their peers of past decades, more reliant on social media and smartphones to create a type of “pseudo community.”
  • GCO’s priorities is to offer relationship enrichment classes in local communities and schools.
Full Report:  Click Here

Nothing in life can replace genuine community

The United States has a teen depression problem. And it’s only getting worse.

That assessment is based off a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in April. It found that 44% of teens “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in the most recent 12-month period. What’s more, 20% of teens “had seriously considered attempting suicide” and 9% “had attempted suicide.”

What’s truly eye-opening is when you compare these statistics with the reported mental health status of teens a decade ago. In 2009, for example, just 26% of teens reported having consistent feelings of sadness and despair. That means in roughly the last decade, the rate of teens who feel this way has nearly doubled. Rates of teens attempting suicide (from 14% to 19%) or committing suicide (6% to 9%) also increased during that period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the problem, as teens have been more isolated than ever. The CDC survey was of 7,700 teens conducted in the first six months of 2021, when the young people were still mired in the worst of the pandemic school shutdowns and social isolation.

“These data echo a cry for help,” said CDC acting principal deputy director Debra Houry in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing.”

Importantly, the CDC report found that school connectedness was a key barometer of how well teens fared mentally. “Youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” the study concluded.

What’s interesting about this anecdote from the CDC report is the emphasis on community and positive social relationships in maintaining good mental health. Today’s teens tend to be more isolated than their peers of past decades, more reliant on social media and smartphones to create a type of “pseudo community.”

As a recent article in The Atlantic points out, “Compared with their counterparts in the 2000s, today’s teens are less likely to go out with their friends, get their driver’s license, or play youth sports.”

It goes without saying that the pandemic only worsened these problems. What’s more, our nation’s public discourse has continued to deteriorate and today has never been more toxic, in large part fed by a culture drenched in social media.

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Again to quote The Atlantic, “Outwardly, teens are growing up slower; but online, they’re growing up faster. The internet exposes teenagers not only to supportive friendships but also to bullying, threats, despairing conversations about mental health, and a slurry of unsolvable global problems—a carnival of negativity. Social media places in every teen’s pocket a quantified battle royal for scarce popularity that can displace hours of sleep and makes many teens, especially girls, feel worse about their body and life. Amplify these existing trends with a global pandemic and an unprecedented period of social isolation, and suddenly, the remarkable rise of teenage sadness doesn’t feel all that mysterious, does it?”

Solutions to this problem are not easy, but we know from our work at the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) that nothing in life can replace genuine community. That community ranges from a good school to a healthy family life to thriving relationships to meaningful work. Teenagers need this just as much as adults — perhaps even more so as they pass through these key years of development.

One of GCO’s priorities is to offer relationship enrichment classes in local communities and schools. That includes students in middle and high school. Joyce Mayberry, vice president of GCO’s family team, “Teaching young people the dynamics of healthy relationships is so important, now more than ever. We’re seeing the devastating results of a loss of meaningful relationships, but it’s not too late to reverse course. All it takes is a direct investment in sharing the tools and approaches that work with young people.”

The bottom line is this: A key way to combat this epidemic of teen depression and poor mental health is through real community, where teens experience relationships face-to-face with friends, family, and broader society. That’s also one of the best ways to break the social media addiction — substituting real relationships for fake ones in a virtual world. Ultimately, it all loops back to community.

Media blasted for ignoring study on harmful government lockdowns | The Johnston County Report

Media blasted for ignoring study on harmful government lockdowns | The Johnston County Report

In The News

Media blasted for ignoring study on harmful government lockdowns | The Johnston County Report

A new meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University shows that government-mandated lockdowns in America and Europe during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic only reduced the death rate by 0.2%, on average. Researchers concluded that lockdowns “have had little to no public health effects” while imposing “enormous economic and social costs” and should be “rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”

Meanwhile, another faculty member at Johns Hopkins is blasting his own university and the media broadly for ignoring or downplaying the study…

The working paper comes on the heels of other research questioning the effectiveness of lockdowns in saving lives compared to the social and economic toll. A working paper from the Georgia Center for Opportunity found no correlations between the severity of government-imposed shutdowns and reported rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths. But states that imposed more stringent lockdowns — such as New York and California — continue to experience negative economic effects compared to less severe states, such as Utah.

School choice story: How Hudson’s life was transformed in a matter of months

School choice story: How Hudson’s life was transformed in a matter of months

School choice story: How Hudson’s life was transformed in a matter of months

Hudson’s Story

Hudson is the third born in a family of five boys. His mom, Kristen, shared that both she and her husband went to public schools and they support the local system.

“We’ve always just said that we would send our kids to public school as long as there weren’t any type of issues,” Kristen said.

It was a no-brainer that they chose to enroll Hudson in a public school kindergarten. And he did well. But beginning in first grade, Kristen began to notice some problems with Hudson’s reading ability. He excelled in math and was considered gifted there, but he struggled with reading.

Kristen began using a private tutor to help Hudson with his reading and speech. By third grade, Hudson had an official diagnosis of a reading disability and a processing disability. The public school gave him an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Going into fourth grade, Kristen was concerned that Hudson would get lost in the larger class size, going from about 20 kids per class to 30.

The last straw was that Hudson would cry every morning before going to school. “We weren’t used to kids not liking school,” Kristen said. “He was just so upset every day. He just didn’t want to go.”

At that point, Kristen and her husband made a decision—to move Hudson from the local public school to The Bedford School in Fairburn, Georgia.

Now at the Bedford School, Hudson is thriving. His class size is no more than 10 students.

“At Bedford, I like to write, do social studies, reading class, and also math,” Hudson said. “I can tell that I’ve improved my reading and writing.”

Before, Hudson would stay quiet in class, embarrassed that he was behind in his subjects. But now at the Bedford School, his confidence has soared. Hudson is involved with intramural sports at Bedford and the kids are supportive of one another, always high-fiving.

What’s more, all of his teachers truly know him and take the time to provide individualized attention.

 

 

school choice week graphic

More Options for More Families

“The school’s goal is to teach the kids how to learn and then turn them over back into a different traditional school system, whether that’s public or private, but not at Bedford anymore, which is good because it’s helping them learn how to succeed in a more normal environment,” Kristen said.

“I feel that the public school is just limited because of all the government roles and the paperwork, and the processes that they have to go through, which they don’t have at Bedford. What a difference there has been with him just being there a few months,” she added.

Thankfully, Hudson was able to attend the Bedford School due to financial support through the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program, which covers around one-fourth of the tuition.

Children like Hudson across Georgia need the same kind of support. It’s crucial that Georgia offers educational alternatives to all students, not just those in the right zip code or whose families can afford it. That is why we must continue to support the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program, and work to create Education Scholarship Accounts for all Georgia students.

 

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

correctional officer

Nicole had high hopes when she moved her family from a rural area in south Georgia to Henry County in the Atlanta metro. The cost of living went up, but the job opportunities were more plentiful and paid much better: She went from making $25,000 a year to over $35,000 as a corrections officer.

But that’s when Nicole got an unpleasant surprise. Her new salary level meant that her safety-net benefits from the government went entirely away—not reduced, but entirely eliminated. She ended up getting around a $10,000 raise but losing approximately $12,500 in benefits.

“I ended up getting kicked off social services because I made a couple dollars more than the max I could,” Nicole shared.

Nicole is 32 years-old and the single mother of four boys. “I’m the only income. I don’t get child support payments or anything else,” she said.

Losing her benefits—particularly food stamps—was a severe blow, especially during the pandemic. Although she has gotten help from local church-based food banks to help her make ends meet, her situation is still stressful.

To further bridge the gap, Nicole is working as much overtime as possible. But she would need to earn significantly more—to the tune of $25 an hour—in order to fully make up for the benefits she has lost. Even in an economy where wages are quickly rising for many workers, that raise level is a tough haul.

 

What needs to change?

Nicole encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to lose their benefits, but not enough to make up for those lost benefits. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.

While it is wonderful to see how the community has stepped up to help Nicole fill the gaps left from her losing access to food stamps, not everyone is so fortunate.

So, what’s the best pathway forward? Our goals should be to shore up the safety net for those who truly need it, eliminate these benefit cliffs, and create a system that encourages (rather than discourages) people from climbing the economic ladder. Along these lines, here are three possible ways forward:

 

  • The food stamp program could be fully redesigned to eliminate the benefit cliffs.

 

  • Separate pools of funds (from public, private, and charitable resources) could be set up as temporary stop-gap measures to get people like Nicole beyond the cliff.

 

  • Nicole could work with someone who understands the cliffs to help her strategize a career and pay progression to effectively jump over the cliff.

 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

#DareToClimb media campaign

This is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) recently launched the #DareToClimb media campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and share stories of those trapped in government assistance programs that, while well-intentioned, are structured in a way that often does more harm than good. GCO believes it is important to share the stories of these courageous men and women who have overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve self-sufficiency.

To learn more, follow the #DareToClimb hashtag.

** The $35,000 income limit is based on Nicole’s interview with us. Although our calculations show it will be somewhat higher, the impact and stress she is experiencing will be the same.