What Can We do about the Rise of Suicide and Depression Among Our Young Girls?
One of our Wise Up Girl program students trusted the facilitator enough to express that she had been suicidal. When the facilitator pressed further, she learned the whole story. The girl (we’ll call her Susie for anonymity) explained that she was one of 6 kids, their dad had long been out of the picture, and her mother was the one working like crazy to raise and provide for them all. As one of the older kids, she picked up much of the slack. As soon as she finished making breakfast, her mom would stroll in from the evening shift, and seconds later, Susie was on her way to school.
The bookbag she carried on her shoulders was heavy with her schoolbooks and the weight of the responsibilities she carried. She was juggling responsibilities that mirrored that of a parent. She had to clip coupons to make the groceries work with what her mom put together, figure out how to help her younger sibling with a science project, translate some documents for her mom, and on, and on.
Years of this left her stressed, unfulfilled, and depressed. The hunger to be valued and loved, coupled with insecurities and shame, crippled her emotional state. In the meantime, overwhelmed by her own difficulties, her mom was disconnected from her daughter's situation and simply demanded, snapped in anger, and perpetuated the shame script that she received when she was young.
A recent CDC report published in November 2018 reported that in 2016, suicide became:
- the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34
- the fourth leading cause for ages 35-54
- the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States
Depression is a real problem. You can learn more about depression by listening to our Struggle is Real podcast, Stepping into the Troubled Mind.
Why is there such a growing mental health epidemic, especially among young people?
Let's take a look at some of the culprits.
Can we blame the economy because of the financial stress that kids may experience at home? 43% of children live in low-income families, and poverty increases the risk of mental health.
What about academic pressure? We live in an overscheduled society, and many children don't have the time to be kids. Yet, while this may be the case for many, research says that GenZ is spending less time on homework.
What about social media? Social media has restructured children's daily lives. Consequently, teens are spending less time with other teens in person, talking less to adults, and dealing with new problems such as sexting and cyberbullying. And there is research that associates all of this with mental illness. (We talk about this at length in our Struggle Is Real Podcast.)
These reasons are strong cultural dynamics that certainly can all play a role in mental health.
Another very important dynamic is family stability. We wonder whether children are enjoying a healthy family environment, have examples of people loving well, have a strong attachment to their parents or adult caregivers, and have a trusted parent or adult to whom they can go to address the pressures they are feeling. Or are they caving in under the weight of the chaos surrounding them?
What if Susie could enjoy a stronger relationship with her mom? What if, instead of feeling like it's her against the world, she and her mom would tackle the challenges together as a team? What if Susie could feel like a daughter again - feel loved, valued, and have moments where she could enjoy being a kid again?
Susie is resilient. She has faced one difficult situation after another. While her character has stood the life tests she has been dealt with, she is weakened by not being fed emotionally. At her core, she longs to be loved and valued.
While she may continue to suffer through depression in her lifetime or maybe just seasonally, given the circumstances she is facing, she would cope better if she had a stronger connection with her mother or extended family members, and even mentors. Research also indicates that this is the case. For example, Luis Zayas found that if mothers and daughters increased their communication interaction, the chances of a suicide attempt would decrease by 50%.
Her mom would need to have open communication with Susy to find out what is going on in her world. And like Susy's mom, many moms are overspent and overstretched, and carving out a time for this purpose can be challenging. One program we have developed for mothers and daughters, Girl Talk, has been effective in reestablishing the mother-daughter connection. It creates the space and opportunity for these conversations to launch.
Wise Up Girl
Additionally our Wise Up Girl program has helped young women overcome obstacles, pursue higher education, and achieve personal success. If you know a young woman who could benefit from this program, reach out to us today.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.