Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the suicide rates among children and teens in the United States are increasing rapidly, a major concern that requires our immediate attention. From 2006 to 2016 the CDC reports that suicide rates among Caucasian children and teens between ages 10 and 17 increased by 70%, and the rates among African-American children and teens increased by 77%.
It’s an epidemic that we need to ensure isn’t overlooked or brushed under the table!
Hollywood paints a positive and uplifting picture of life during your high school years. We watch our favorite characters as they establish lifelong friendships, learn about themselves and about life as a whole, and create incredible memories that will never leave them. In fact, those characters that have already graduated look back on their time in high school with longing, discussing their desire to go back to that ‘easy’ time in their lives. However, for many teens across the nation, this portrayal couldn’t be more inaccurate.
While some will surely thrive in a high school environment, many will find this to be an incredibly difficult period of time. Faced with wavering self-esteem, high stress, a desire for external validation and mounting pressure from adults to ‘figure out their life,’ it is no wonder that the rate of mental illness among American teenagers is so significant. How likely are our teens to struggle with their mental health? The Teen Treatment Center, based out of Florida, reports that 1 out of 5 teenagers has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Of these, only 50% will ever receive the help that they need to recover.
Interested in better understanding this heartbreaking phenomenon, Peter Gray, Ph. D., a research professor at Boston College and well-respected expert in the field of Psychology decided to do some in-depth analysis into the potential cause of this startling increase. His findings may be shocking, highlighting an often-overlooked problem. Citing numerous studies, he pointed to the fact that suicide rates among teenagers increase significantly during the school year.
It’s a startling statistic, but one that should be brought to the attention of parents, educators and mental health professionals across the country. Dr. Gregory Plemmons of Vanderbilt University conducted one of the studies that Gray cited, analyzing the number of hospital visits among teenagers due to either thinking about or attempting suicide during the school year versus during the summer months from 2008 to 2015. Plemmons explained, “On average, during the eight years included in the study, only 18.5 percent of total annual suicide ideation and suicide attempt encounters occurred during summer months. Peaks were highest in fall and spring. October accounted for nearly twice as many encounters as reported in July.”
As a society, we have been quick to point at social media, the pressures of the mainstream media, and childhood bullying, but this data raises another concern. Are we putting too much pressure on our children during this time of their life? Is our current education system actually causing harm among our teens, and if so, what can we do to correct this?
The modern education system seen in place in the United States is based on the Prussian education system, dating back to the late 18th century. When it was first introduced, this model was designed to instill obedience and uniformity among the students, masking this behavioral control as an education system designed to teach literacy. Understanding this, Gray asks why we still rely upon the same model in today’s society. With this data on the table, it’s time to reconsider our approach to education and whether we are actually causing more harm than good among our youth.
“School is clearly bad for children’s mental health,” Gray explains. “The tragedy is that we continue to make school ever more stressful, even though research shows that none of this is necessary. Young people learn far more, far better, with much less stress (and at less public expense) when they are allowed to learn in their own natural ways.”