Why are Teen Girls Suffering from Record Levels of Sadness and Suicidality?

Teen Girls Suffering

Being a teenager is hard. But teen girls are struggling with mental health more than ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2011-2021 (YRBS) published earlier this year. The survey findings are based on responses gathered in the fall of 2021 from 17,000 high school students across the U.S. Since the CDC began the survey in 2011, collecting new data every two years, it has revealed a steady increase in mental health issues among teens with each new report. The latest numbers are shocking.


An astounding 30% of high school girls reported seriously considering suicide in the year prior, 24% made a suicide plan, and 13% of females said they actually attempted suicide. Click To Tweet


The data from this most recent survey regarding the mental health of high school girls is particularly concerning. An alarming 57% of teen girls reported feeling so sad and hopeless for two weeks or more in the last year that they were not able to do some of their usual activities. In comparison, 29% of teen boys reported the same. The figure reflects a 60% increase in teen girls suffering from persistent sad and hopeless feelings since 2011.

Adding insult to injury, an astounding 30% of high school girls reported seriously considering suicide in the year prior, 24% made a suicide plan, and 13% of females said they actually attempted suicide—roughly double what teen boys reported on all accounts.

Since the YRBS was released, mental health professionals and parents are urgently seeking to better understand what’s driving the crisis. Several factors are presented here.


The 2021 YRBS survey no doubt reflects, in part, the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all teens. Indeed, the sudden loss of social connection to peers and other supportive adult influences (tutors, teachers, coaches, neighboring parents, etc.) and activities outside the home was difficult for teens in general.

Research shows this to be true. One study found social isolation is strongly associated with increased depression and anxiety among all teens. But some research showed a greater impact on teen girls, which was attributed to girls having greater worry about others contracting COVID-19, changes in daily and school routines, not seeing friends in person, and passive social media use.

This is not totally surprising as girls are known to rely more on their friends for emotional support, especially during stressful times. However, there’s much more to the story as mental health issues amongst female teens had already been steadily increasing prior to the pandemic.


Male and female brains are not the same—and it’s possible that these differences factor into more mental health challenges for teen girls. A Harvard Medical School study took scans of male and female brains and found that female brains have larger volumes in the frontal and limbic cortices. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain used for learning, judgment, controlling impulses, and conscientiousness. The limbic system is the brain’s emotional center.

This may explain why teen girls are less impulsive than teen boys and more concerned with emotion. Teen girls’ minds are often busier and tend to worry too much. This can lead to increased automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and constant worry about what other people think about them and how they compare with peers—especially when it comes to appearance.

The dramatic fluctuations of the hormones estrogen and progesterone menstruating teen girls experience each month fuels negative, worried thoughts even more. It may, in part, be why teen girls are more prone to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.


When you combine the small but significant differences in female brains with the negative influence of increased social media use, they likely contribute to the current mental health crisis among teen girls.

Indeed, experts have noted that the rise of smartphone and social media use, which escalated dramatically in the early 2010s, coincides with worsening mental health among teens, especially girls. One research study linked the escalation of mental health crises (increased rates of depression and suicide), especially among teen girls, with the rise of electronic use over other activities—noting that more screen time was associated with worse mental health outcomes.

Digital media isn’t always a detriment though. For example, research analyzing digital media use among teens during the pandemic up until the fall of 2021 showed that when it involvedone-to-one communication, self-disclosure in the context of mutual online friendship, as well as positive and funny online experiences,” it helped lessen loneliness and stress.

Yet, the very same analysis found many more instances of poor mental health associated with digital media use when it involved a young person’s tendency to compare, experience fear of missing out (FOMO), and exposure to negative content. Of course, social media has addictive qualities too, and young people are at greater risk of developing addictive symptoms, research has found. How social media is used is key.

Surveys have indicated that teen girls use social media more than boys, which would potentially cause a greater impact on their well-being. A 2022 Pew Research report found that teen girls were more likely to report they use social media too much and would have a harder time giving it up. They were also more frequently using TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat than boys—apps that are notorious for comparison and access to potentially harmful content. One recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate warns that TikTok pushes harmful content into users’ feeds promoting eating disorders and self-harm. Yet, social media is only one contributor to teen girls’ mental health.


Additional factors impacting mental health, which disproportionately affect teen girls are sexual violence and bullying, according to the YRBS. Reports of sexual violence by anyone were more than three times as high for teen girls than boys with 18% of girls reporting having been violated sexually, compared to 5% for teen boys. Additionally, 14% of high school girls reported being forced to have sex versus 4% of high school boys.

According to the YRBS, 20% of teen girls were cyber-bullied compared to 11% of boys. These traumas are, of course, associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Cyber-bullying is particularly destructive to teen girls, research has found. And research also shows that it is highly associated with poor mental health, self-harm, and suicidality.

While overall substance abuse is down among teens according to the YRBS, girls tended to use substances more than boys. In particular, 29% of female high school students reported drinking alcohol in the 30 days prior while only 19% of males said they drank alcohol. It is not uncommon for teens to self-medicate when they are struggling with mental health disorders, an abundance of research has found.


While more insights are sure to come, the CDC has urged high schools to take measures to increase “social connectedness” for high school students by implementing programs that give students a sense that they are cared for, supported, and belong.

For parents, implementing some parameters around digital media use and staying alert to sudden changes in their teen’s moods and/or behavior is critical. Heed the warning signs of trauma, depression, and substance abuse, and seek the help of a qualified mental health professional without delay.

Depression, suicidality, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Where might marijuana or other illegal drugs fit in to the picture?

    Comment by Joyce — May 3, 2023 @ 6:41 AM

  2. I agree with all the above. I think the push for wokeness, trangenderism, competing with "boys" in sports, broken families and the lack of spiritual grounding. The amount of adolescents that say they have no idea of God, prayer, meditation… it is so sad. Our kids are a mess. Then they go of to the college indoctrination mill. So So sad.

    Comment by Ruth Altamura-Roll — May 3, 2023 @ 7:10 AM

  3. Make it affordable. Not many of us can afford $5000. Both my grandkids, to whom I am guardian, are suffering from depression , ADHD and anxiety from trauma stemming from their mothers drug addiction. PLEASE HELP!

    Comment by Melinda — May 3, 2023 @ 8:02 AM

  4. Thank you Dr Amen for addressing this important issue. You are 1 doctor for sure that is actually honest & truly caring to do the right thing. Social media can be good but also negative as young people use it way too much & could become addicted to it. Pandemic restrictions/vax mandates have also caused further damage to the mental wellbeing of everyone but worst to the younger people as it suddenly stopped crucial real human interactions & the fact that it was not tested properly has also caused too many damaging outcomes as well as deaths & truth has not come out yet to have justified such lockdown requirements. What about emf's known negative impact to the brain from all tech devices? We definitely should pay attention to the emotional wellbeing of every one, but, primarily younger people as their brains are still developing until 25 or so. We also should have more choices to use natural approaches that will not hurt anyone but, even more critical for our young generations as to not get them hooked on drugs for the rest of their lives & unable to function normally, as while working with children I witnessed first hand the awful side effects drugs like ritalin etc. can have such a detrimental reactions on still very fragile & developing brains, but, sadly, greed is always present & wins as there's a lack of conscience in too many drug makers & some doctors who have forgotten the Do No Harm Oath they took. Our young generations are the ones that will direct this country forwards, so, let's make sure they are handled in the most honest & kind way when it comes to their mental wellbeing by applying the best natural options available.

    Comment by Josie S. — May 3, 2023 @ 11:17 AM

  5. So what do we do ?

    Comment by NATHALIE LEMAY — May 4, 2023 @ 2:51 AM

  6. We just recently allowed our 16yr old (almost 17) to have data on her phone. And she has still struggled with sadness, thoughts of hurting herself, and a complete lack of interest in school work. They are struggling no matter what, it seems.

    Comment by Roger — May 24, 2023 @ 11:47 AM

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