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The student website of Van Nuys High School
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The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

Silent suffering: Exploring the disturbing reality of teenage girls’ mental health

A disproportionate amount of teenage girls are increasingly suffering from anxiety and depression, with social media and the pandemic being the chief culprits behind this.
Harmful stereotypes reinforced by social media and stressors from the pandemic have brought on an increase in anxiety and depression in teenage girls. Unfortunately, many don’t speak out due to a fear of being seen as “too emotional.”

“It’s all in your head, just get over it.”

These were the words that alumnus Brianna Carrillo’s parents told her when she said she felt depressed. 

“My family doesn’t believe in mental health,” she said.  “They think it’s just something you make up in your head. That it’s not real.”

Getting shut down for talking about her feelings and concerns, was something she had to get used to as she got older. 

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“I faced a lot of conversations where I’m like, ‘mom, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I don’t feel happy and it’s not that I’m not grateful to you, it’s just I don’t see myself the way you see me,’” Carrillo said.

Since middle school, Carrillo struggled with pressure from discussing her feelings and personal beliefs with others, particularly her family. 

“I didn’t feel like I had enough of a good environment to be really open about my personal identity, with who I am,” Carrillo said. “It was more like not having enough support and then just feeling like I can’t reach out. I couldn’t really talk about it because I was gonna be judged.”

She felt that if she couldn’t receive emotional support from her family, she wouldn’t get it from anyone else. 

“I think that when I was growing up, with my family back home, I had to learn the hard way that I can’t be vulnerable all the time,” she said. “When you feel like you don’t have the support, you feel like you can’t open up, because you don’t want other people to know. You kind of close yourself off to any support available to you.”

Carrillo’s struggle with her family’s lack of understanding and support of mental health sheds light on the harsh reality many teens face when trying to seek help. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. 

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was published in early Feb. 2023 found that, in 2021, 57 percent of high school girls reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year,” up from 36 percent in 2011. Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls said they had considered suicide, a 60 percent rise in the past decade. 

This is an ever growing crisis that continues to plague teenagers all over the U.S. 

“I deal with students almost daily and there’s definitely been an increase in students feeling depressed or anxious,” school psychologist Ms. Jennifer Garay said.

This increase isn’t caused by unhealthy home environments alone. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State Northridge, Ms. Garay has worked at multiple schools like Panorama High School and Robert Fulton College Preparatory. What she’s noticed is a combination of post-pandemic anxiety and the pervasive influence of social media. 

“We saw a lot of students having difficulty transitioning back to in-person school,” she said. “We see a lot of them being anxious, not being used to being around other students. They’re coming back into a new environment, and that might have been overwhelming. That isolation, not being around other students, having their daily routine all of a sudden disrupted and being away from that support system of teachers and friends that they typically had every day when they came to school, caused a big disruption in students’ lives.”

The advent of social media proved to be even more influential.

“There’s just a lot of factors right now with teens, but I think social media is definitely a big one,” Ms. Garay said. “With the use of social media, I’ve seen increasing issues with self esteem and anxious behavior. Social media has become an essential part of teenagers’ lives and that can be very influential.”

“Obviously on social media, people present the best part of themselves,” she said. “And then we get into a lot of comparisons. You can think you’re not good enough and you’re constantly comparing. Social media could be a fun place, but when we get consumed with that, we need to step back and kind of reflect on whether it’s causing more harm to you.”

However, it seems that girls are disproportionately impacted by these challenges.

“I didn’t feel like I had enough of a good environment to be really open about my personal identity, with who I am,” “It was more like not having enough support and then just feeling like I can’t reach out.”

— Brianna Carrillo

According to CDC data, nearly 60 percent of teenage girls reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness almost daily for at least two consecutive weeks. In contrast, the prevalence of such feelings among teenage boys was considerably lower. Furthermore, an extensive 89-page report highlighted that teenage girls faced higher levels of online bullying. About 13 percent of girls had attempted suicide within the past year, a significantly higher percentage compared to the seven percent of boys. 

Drawing from personal experience, Carrillo emphasizes how social media can negatively affect girls’ perceptions of themselves, contributing to feelings of inadequacy and lower self-esteem.

“They have all these beauty filters and Instagram models on social media,” Carrillo said. “It’s something that a lot of girls still see and are exposed to. They can think of themselves as not as beautiful as them, and that can hurt their self-image. I know that from personal experience.” 

Women’s expectations are frequently magnified in the media.

“If you watch TV shows and movies, the image of a perfect male is usually someone who goes to the gym, someone who’s fit, tall and good looking,” Chang said. “For women, you tend to see more standards in dramas and shows where it’s like you have to be skinny, you have to be good looking, you have to look a certain way or you have to fit these requirements. Or if you’re too skinny, you need to eat more, you’re malnourished. If you get surgery, you get shamed. There’s so many of these standards.”

Chang says this struggle to fit into prescribed roles often leads individuals to lose their sense of identity in the pursuit of acceptance. 

“A big issue is these kids are looking at that and saying, this is what I have to be,” Chang said. “They’re often pressured into trying to fit those societal standards and in that process, they lose themselves. That idea of, ‘I have to be this way in order to be accepted in society.’”

Carillo brings attention to the detrimental consequences of disregarding girls’ mental health.

“People think girls are just being emotional,” Carillo said. “That’s the biggest problem that I see. That just leads girls to neglect themselves, and it just gets worse and worse until they just give up.”

The fear of judgment and societal expectations creates barriers for girls to openly discuss their mental health issues.

“It’s more of an issue where girls don’t feel comfortable enough to open up about their mental issues because of the fear of how they would be perceived by their peers and society, especially with how cutthroat society is right now,” Chang said.

Chang highlights the challenges faced by girls in meeting societal expectations and the subsequent impact on their ability to express themselves freely. These standards often lead to a decreased likelihood of seeking support and understanding.

“I’m not saying men don’t go through the same thing as us, but for girls, we’re growing up in a society where there’s certain expectations of us,” Chang said. “And there’s already this image of what a girl should be like. I feel like when they’re faced with those societal rules that they should fit into, they feel less open about what they go through, their concerns, and their issues, because they don’t feel like people would recognize them.”

For people of color, especially teenage girls, it’s even harder to seek help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, just 45 percent of women of color in the U.S. with mental illness received treatment in 2019. The Alliance noted that while 50 percent of young girls and women with mental illness receive treatment annually, only 34 percent of Latino individuals and 33 percent of Black individuals with mental illness received mental health care.

Black people are 20 percent more likely than the general population to live with mental health conditions like major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

“Women of color are more vulnerable because of family and the traditions that a certain family holds,” Carrillo said. “It feels like one wrong move and you’re kind of pushed out of your family. My family is really traditional and they don’t agree with the same beliefs I do. That’s already put me in a position where I’m not like everyone else in my family. As long as I don’t talk about it, they’re fine with it. But as soon as I bring it up,  it’s draining because they feel like they failed as parents to raise me right.”

Chang emphasizes the need to address mental health struggles collectively, regardless of gender. 

“There are differences in the data for males and females, but I feel like instead of focusing more on that, we should try to help both instead of looking at them differently and acknowledging that they are different,” Chang said. “We should try to get the percentages of all teenagers to zero instead of seeing that there is a difference. Just acknowledging it isn’t going to fix it.”

Upon reaching her senior year, Carrillo took the initiative to establish a club called the “Lavender Club” with the aim of preventing other teenagers from experiencing the same absence of emotional support she had endured.

“I called some of my friends who I know have the same values and similar experiences I did, where they felt like they weren’t able to be themselves or really be heard by other teachers or their peers,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo says the club provides a safe space for individuals. Its purpose was to create an environment where students could freely discuss academic or personal challenges. Mr. Greg, a member of the club, facilitated communication circles, allowing students to express themselves openly without feeling pressured to conform to certain expectations.

“They can also come talk to us in case of anything and we also try to provide resources as much as possible,” Carrillo said. 

As of now, Carrillo is the president while Chang holds the position of treasurer. They both want to improve the state of mental health resources at the school.

“I know the school already has mental health resources, but a big issue with it is even if you try to go and get help, you still need parental consent because you’re still underage,” Carrillo said. “And that can actually be a roadblock for a lot of kids whose family doesn’t believe in that.”

Ms. Garay also sees this as a major flaw.

“At school, we have a 30 minute session here,” she said. “And then when you go back to class, after discussing such a heavy subject, it wouldn’t be fair to send a student back and say, ‘Okay, go back to math class.’”

Carrillo feels that the school should be more proactive in trying to get their resources out to students, as well as appearing more inclusive.

“I wish the school was more open and supportive,” Carrillo said. “I wish the school was more adamant about promoting and showing that the school is a safe school. That would really help a lot because just hearing them say it is different from integrating it. They have it there but they haven’t integrated enough into the school. That’s what I believe.”

To make more aggressive integration of the resources available to students, Carrillo suggests more discrete methods of reaching out.

“I feel like the students should have something where they could talk about their problems digitally, like a forum where they can have a one on one conversation, but not have to go face to face,” Carrillo said. 

Chang suggests creating a buddy system through a collaborative effort between Lavender Club and the administration. 

“We would want our club to team up with the school to create a buddy system where officers or members of the club can be assigned to a student who wants help, and they can be with them for the year and just talk to them when needed,” she said. “Most students would be open to talk to other students their age because we are not required to say something. If they were to talk to a peer, they would be more open about it because they can relate more to them.”

But while these potential solutions are promising, as of now, Ms. Garay suggests students should reach out to the people in their community first, whether that’s a teacher or a counselor.

“It’s definitely a community component,” Ms. Garay said. “We want to give students a safe environment here at school, where they feel that they can approach adults. That’s the first step in getting help, is approaching adults here in schools. As a school psychologist, I think it’s really important to connect them and their parents to the resources out in the community.” 

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About the Contributor
Angelica Venturina
Angelica Venturina, Print Editor-in-Chief
Angelica Venturina is the Print Editor-in-Chief. A senior now, this is her last year of journalism. She likes reading historical fantasy books, creative writing, video editing, watching Korean dramas, listening to music and playing with her cat, Chowder. Outside of journalism, Angelica is involved with TASSEL Cambodia and First Gen. In the future, she hopes to visit the Philippines again and spend time with her relatives there while enjoying Filipino street food. After graduation, Angelica wants to pursue a career as a surgical technologist.
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