Few children are impervious to back-to-school jitters and anxiety. But while first-day anxiety will dissipate in due time for most kids, other children may struggle to fight off negative feelings throughout the school year.
Feeling extremely pressured, stressed, and anxious can have potentially dire consequences -- namely, suicide. And young women are especially vulnerable to these negative thoughts and feelings, new research suggests.
According to the latest government data, suicide rates among adolescent girls (aged 15-19) reached an all-time high in 2015. The research found that suicide rates doubled among teenage girls and increased by more than 30 percent for boys in this age group between 2007 and 2015.
Psychologists at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center say the recent uptick can likely be attributed to the pressure most girls feel to be perfect.
Social media fuels perfectionism
With fancy editing and a filter, any photo can be made to look like a sparklier, more sanitized version of its original. While teens may know this on an intellectual level, the urge to compare themselves to what they see online is often strong.
"There continues to be a lot of pressure on young women to be perfect," said Melissa O'Neill, LCSW, director of program development at Timberline Knolls.
"This is definitely increased due to social media and the perception that everyone has the perfect clothes, body, relationship, grades and life." O’Neill says the pursuit of perfectionism can feed into increased anxiety and depression.
Pressure to perform in school
School can also take a toll on the emotions of young girls who are already feeling the pressure to be perfect. The intense focus that is often placed on achievement, performance and perfectionism are risk factors that can lead to a range of disorders, says O’Neill.
“Our young people become far too stressed too early about grades. In high school, a 4.0 grade point average is no longer good enough,” she noted. “Now with advanced placement classes, teens are encouraged to get 4.5 or 4.6 GPAs.”
In times of emotional turbulence, the love and support of a trusted adult can be invaluable. Here are a few things parents do to protect their teen against the possibility of suicide:
- Interact positively. Giving your teen consistent feedback and compliments for good work can help guard against the possibility of suicide, says the American Psychological Association (APA).
- Talk about your concerns. Ask your child directly about suicidal thoughts. Explain the value of therapy and medication to manage symptoms.
- Communicate with other parents. Communicate regularly with other parents in your community, as well as your teen’s teachers and coaches. Doing so can help you keep tabs on your child’s social environment.
- Maintain a safe environment. Limit your teen’s access to alcohol, prescription pills, illegal drugs, knives, and guns.
- Get help if needed. “If you’re struggling, or if you know someone who is struggling, there is help,” O’Neill said. Discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and seek a mental health referral.