A nationwide survey of teenagers in the United States has revealed a rise in fear and despair among them, with one in seven admitting to the misuse of prescription drugs. Since 2007, there has been a rise in the number of teenagers reporting feelings of dejection and despair. Suicidal tendency and absenteeism in school have gone up due to the fear of bullying and violence. The trend has been noteworthy in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in high schools.
Countrywide, one out of five students reported facing bullying at school, one in 10 females and one in 28 male students reported having been subjected to forced sexual activity. Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, said that the life of an adolescent can be challenging. However, a huge number of students admitting to persistent feeling of hopelessness and 17 percent contemplating suicide tell the sad state of affairs.
In 2007, 28 percent of teenagers reported to have suicidal feelings, which rose to 31 percent in 2017. Similarly, 14 percent of teens made suicide plans in 2017 as against 11 percent in 2007. The survey, conducted every two years, involved 15,000 high school students across 39 states. It asks questions pertaining to a wide range of activities and attitudes.
There were some positive observations as well. Compared to a decade ago, fewer teens reported indulging in sexual activity, consuming alcohol or taking drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Since the question related to prescription opioid was asked for the first time, the researchers couldn’t tell if the one in seven exhibited an increase or a decline.
The executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors and a social worker, David Harvey, said that irrespective of the absence of a comparison, these figures suggest that opioids must be contributing to the lesser explored impact on the lives of adolescents. For example, opioid use could be contributing towards the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in this age group.
Harvey pointed out that in 2007, at least 62 percent of teens reported having used condoms the last time they had an intercourse compared to 54 percent of teens in 2017. This decline along with the use of prescription drugs signals towards a teenager’s susceptibility to STDs like HIV and Syphilis. As many as 39 percent of students had sex in 2017 compared to 48 percent in 2007.
There was also a decline in the percentage of students encountering sexual dating violence from 10 percent in 2013 to 7 percent in 2017. This, along with a decline in the intake of alcohol and drugs, represented the wiser choices made by the students. The experts suggested that family support, especially the parental attention can make a lot of difference in an adolescent’s life. Further, an increased access to mental health and substance abuse resources can also make a lot of difference. Schools can contribute by offering coping skills and bystander intervention training.
Among the LGBT teens, there was increased incidence of risky behavior as their sense of physical and emotional well-being is threatened. In comparison to 2015, a higher number of gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers reported having been raped. They also reported having missed school because of their concerns regarding their own safety.
Dealing with the double whammy
Teens are impressionable. They are at a juncture where they can fall prey to drugs easily which can have an impact on their mental health. On the contrary, they can resort to addictive substances to deal with their mental problems. Such a simultaneous occurrence of these problems is termed as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, which requires immediate intervention.