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March 16, 2023

The Girls Aren't Alright: Sexual Assault and Depression in Teen Girls

“I’m so blue all the time
And that’s just how I feel
Always have and I always will
I always have and I always will.”
-Phoebe Bridgers, Funeral

What’s changing?

The CDC reported in February that in 2011, 36% of teenage girls reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, while in 2021, that number had increased to 57%. 1 in 3 had seriously considered attempting suicide. According to another study by the National Library of Medicine, 60% of teens reported knowing another teen who had attempted suicide, and of those, 20% said that person was a close friend. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among adolescents.

There are several possible reasons for the rise in young women’s sadness. Studies have discussed the detrimental effects of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for teen girls, the CDC also highlights how sexual trauma can play a significant part in mental health health issues.

1 in 5 teenage girls reported that they had experienced sexual violence in the last year. 1 in 10 reported having been forced to have sex in the last year. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that of the women who experience rape in their lifetime, 1 in 3 were victimized between the ages of 11-17. Much sexual harassment and violence occurs on or is facilitated by the internet and social media, and according the Digital Civility Survey, 60% of young adults say they would not tell a parent about these experiences.

So what can parents and caring adults do?

It can be hard not to feel powerless in the face of these kinds of statistics. But the CDC report urges those with teens in their lives that now is exactly the time to take action. Though the report focuses mainly on schools,, the information applies to parents, grandparents, youth pastors, and others with influence on young people as well. The report says that “safe and trusted adults—like mentors, trained teachers, and staff—can help foster school connectedness, so that teens know the people around them care about them, their well-being, and their success.”

The takeaway here is that young people need to feel safe and loved, they need to know that they are not alone. Relationships with caring adults give them somewhere to turn when painful and scary things do happen. Teen girls especially need older women who will foster non-judgmental spaces where they can ask questions about and seek help if they need it for sexual experiences and violence. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, almost 60% of rapes go unreported. Victims state fear of retaliation, the belief that the experience wasn’t important, or the belief that no one would do anything about it as reasons for not reporting. Again, strong, shame-free relationships with trusted, older women can make all the difference.

Galatians 6:2 tells us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Most teens do not have the skills required to cope with trauma, or even just the stress of being a young person at a very confusing and overwhelming period in history. Something we can do as adults is try to share some of that load, assuring teens that we are with them in what they’re going through, that they don’t have to be ashamed of their feelings or experiences, and that this world is so much better for their presence in it.

As we seek to pour our strength into them, to encourage them and try to give them hope, we can turn to Jesus to pour into us, giving us his own strength, which has no limitations and is never diluted or weakened. When your teen feels lost and in pain, the best thing to do is not to try and save them, but to trust and believe on their behalf. Carry them before God in prayer, knowing that He cares more for them even than you do, and that His hope can reach through any darkness, touch any heart, and bring it home.

If you want to dive deeper on these themes, check out the Axis Parent’s Guide to Sexual Assault.

A note for parents: In addition to spiritual care and support, a young person dealing with sexual trauma, depression and suicidal ideation, and/or other mental health crises might need professional support. The National Sexual Abuse Hotline (1-800-656-4673) and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or SMS 988) provide 24/7 immediate assistance and information about resources. If you believe a young person is in immediate danger of taking their own life, contact the nearest emergency room or urgent care facility.

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