The first emergency: Teen mental health before anything else

Survey finds one in three teen girls consider suicide; schools are their first defense



February 17, 2023 - 2:32 PM

The past few years have gotten us used to bad news from the Centers for Disease Control, and this week was more of the same, yet this time it had nothing to do with COVID. The agency’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that about one in three high-school age girls had seriously considered suicide, and detailed sharp upticks in sexual violence and overall mental health struggles.

The CDC report makes explicit what many know intuitively, that schools are the first line of defense in nipping these crises in the bud, providing services and activities not just related to mental health but to belonging, with students feeling like they can build community and have someone to go to if they’re feeling unmoored or victimized.

Unfortunately, things seem to be trending in the wrong direction, with teachers around the country leaving their jobs en masse after feeling unsupported at best and under siege at worst. Classrooms have always been political battlegrounds to some extent, but the fights have reached fever pitch as political opportunists ban books while ironically accusing others of censorship or go to great lengths to make LGBTQ students — some of the most vulnerable to mental health struggles and harassment — feel unwelcome.

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