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Let’s Celebrate Mental Health Awareness

It’s a good time to take inventory of the state of mental health and what we’re doing as individuals, as a nation, and as an organization, to address it. At Girls Inc. of New York City, we believe it’s important to educate teen girls about behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illness, behaviors that are often signs of mental health problems as well. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, alcohol or marijuana abuse, and these days---social media addiction.

At Girls Inc., we emphasize the vital importance of taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of the girls we serve, and we are ever mindful of the difficult environments and the psychosocial challenges facing them. To help girls navigate the challenging emotional waters of adolescence, we employ many mind-body techniques on a regular basis. These include yoga, meditation, visioning, dance, and exercise, etc. to help girls learn to use these techniques to deal with stressful situations, lower blood pressure, or to re-pattern their thoughts to reframe a situation in a more positive light.

Thank You to the Aetna Foundation

Aetna’s generous support is affording us the opportunity to create the Girls Inc. Mind Body program anew, in a digitized format, featuring avatars that look like the girls and real-life experience vignettes, so that it has maximum distribution and effectiveness. Serious depression is worsening in teens, especially girls, and the suicide rate among girls reached a 40 year high in the past few years, according to a CDC report recently released. Teens are known for their moodiness, and the teen years — a particularly challenging time of life — is one of the most vulnerable periods to develop anxiety and depression. The Aetna sponsored program will teach girls about the interconnectedness of the mind and body, and emphasize the importance of healthy patterns of behavior, social connectedness, healthy relationships and performing well in school. Stress reduction strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, dance, artwork, and journaling will be featured.

Girls Inc. of New York City

The girls served by GINYC, who live in the poorest communities of the city, are particularly at risk for psychosocial problems and mood disorders. For instance, nearly one third (30 percent) of students in grades 9 through 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for an extended period (two or more weeks in a row) in the last year, according to Child Trends. Girls with psychosocial issues are also much more likely to use drugs or alcohol, drop out of school, or engage in promiscuous sex than a young girl who is not depressed. Feelings of sadness or loneliness not only affect teens but those around them, often causing problems in relationships with peers and family members.

Anxiety and depression occur in both genders, but by the teenage years, girls are much more at risk than boys. Before puberty, the prevalence of mood disorders is about the same in boys and girls—3 to 5 percent. But by mid-adolescence girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys, with a 14 to 20 percent prevalence at adult levels.

Why such a big disparity in mood disorders? We know from looking at brain scans that there are differences in the way girls and boys process emotional stimuli. Girls mature, in terms of their emotional recognition, faster than boys—and that sensitivity could make them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

It’s plausible that the differences are evolutionary: girls may be wired to tune in earlier to emotional stimuli because it was advantageous for nurturing babies; for young men, given their roles as protectors, emotional responsiveness might have been an important attribute not to have.

The argument that the differences in emotional sensitivity are hard-wired is supported by the fact that even as women’s lives have clearly changed—with many more women living professional, competitive, Type-A, more “male-like” lives—the rate of depression hasn’t dropped. Even the participation of far more girls in sports and other intense physical activities hasn’t reduced the rate of depression, though physical activity is important to emotional well-being, and one effective way to help jumpstart recovery in someone who’s depressed.

When a young girl is depressed or anxious, her suffering isn’t the only reason it’s important to get help. In addition to the disorders themselves, there are other consequences that lead to serious health issues, such as cancer or heart disease or autoimmune diseases later in life. In addition, poor emotional health creates low energy and poor concentration, two factors that result in social withdrawal and poor academic performance.

Further, falling behind in school undermines girls' confidence and self-image, and can have a detrimental impact on her future. Social learning is just as critical as academic learning in childhood and adolescence. This is a time when a girl would normally be learning such things as how to be a daughter, a sister, a friend; with either depression or anxiety, she may miss or fall behind on this critical social learning. These deficits not only put her behind her peers but can lead to other serious health problems in the future.

WHO: Depression will Become the Leading Cause of Illness By 2020

The World Health Organization has projected that depression will be the leading cause illness worldwide by 2020. In fact, according to a new poll recently released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Americans are much more anxious today than they were a year ago. The APA assessed anxiety levels of a nationally representative sample of 1004 surveyed during March 22-25, 2018, and compared those results with results from a similar poll of 1019 surveyed a year ago.

In the APA poll, women experienced a greater increase in anxiety than men from 2017 to 2018. When asked to compare their current anxiety to that of the previous year, more than half (57%) of women aged 18 to 49 reported being more anxious, compared to 38% of men the same age.

Increases in anxiety scores were seen across age groups, across people of different races and ethnicities, and among men and women. Millennials, however, continue to have the highest levels of anxiety among all age groups. And while most respondents are more anxious than last year concerning their health, safety, finances, relationships, and politics, the greatest increase was in anxiety about paying bills, particularly among millennials. Nearly three-quarters of young adults aged 18 to 34 years, three quarters of whom were women, and nearly 4 of 5 Hispanic, report being somewhat or extremely anxious about paying their bills.

On a very positive note, the poll shows that the stigma around mental illness is experiencing decreasing and over 86% of Americans believe that your mental health has a major influence on your physical health. We are making strides. We can all take pride in the increased awareness of the importance of mental health and be getting the necessary treatment for it when needed. In fact, during this month of Mental Health Awareness, we should celebrate it!


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