(NewsNation) — Forty-four percent of American teenagers reported feeling persistently sad and hopeless, according to an alarming new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A prolonged period of isolation and abnormality during the pandemic wreaked havoc on American teenagers. The study followed almost 8,000 high schoolers from 128 schools across the country.
Claire Rhyneer, an Alaskan high schooler, said she felt sad and lost during the pandemic — and even turned to self-harm.
“I asked myself, ‘Do I need help? How should I know?’” Rhyneer said testifying before Congress about the hardships youth like her are facing. “Each night I wondered what was wrong. And in hindsight, it is terrifying to know that I was physically harming myself and still unsure if I needed support.”
One year after the pandemic’s onset, 66 percent of high schoolers said they found it more difficult to complete their schoolwork. Many also reported economic instability, with one in four experiencing hunger. And 29 percent had a parent lose a job.
Health experts say the data echoes a cry for help.
“It is absolutely critical that we discuss mental health in schools,” said Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer at the American Psychological Association. “We have the tools to build kids’ resilience.”
The CDC report also magnified the prevalence of abuse. More than half of students experienced emotional abuse from a parent or adult in the home, and more than one in 10 (11%) said they’d been physically abused. The numbers for LGBTQ youth were even higher.
Yet the findings showed students who had a sense of being cared for, supported and belonging at school fared better. And teens who felt like they had a connection to an adult or their peers were significantly less likely to report feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Jenny Dean Schmidt, mother and author of “Mom, You’re Amazing,” says don’t take it at face value if your child says they’re OK.
“It’s OK to reclaim their authority and say, ‘I’ve got some views on how to cope with this. … I still believe in you and your future.’ You need to speak that positive outlook into your child’s life, and you also need to model it.”
Her message? Communication is key. Get them talking at the dinner table and before bed. If you notice your child isolating, peel them away from screen time, because social media can lead to comparison to others and feelings of inadequacy.