Something has gone terribly wrong with America’s young people.

We are creating a generation of deeply unmotivated, unwell, unmoored, and shockingly suicidal teens whose happiness fluctuates on a scale of low to extremely low.

Their “highs” consist of drugs, parties, and TikTok, and then we’re shocked when they plunge into dark depths of despair.

Not surprisingly, self-harm and suicide rates have skyrocketed. New reports suggest that as many as 20% of high schoolers have had “serious thoughts about suicide.” According to some estimates, suicide rates overall climbed 30% from 2000 to 2018. In 2020 alone, an American died of suicide every 11 minutes. The number who confessed to having considered suicide was approximately 266 times greater.

Researchers at Dartmouth discovered that mental health hospitalizations for kids soared by 25.8 percent over a ten-year period. “Especially striking,” reported the New York Times, “was the rise in suicidal behavior as a cause: The portion of pediatric mental health hospitalizations involving suicidal or self-harming behavior rose to 64.2 percent in 2019, from 30.7 percent in 2009. As a proportion of overall pediatric hospitalizations, suicidal behavior rose to 12.7 percent in 2019 from 3.5 percent in 2009.”

This February, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey confirmed that “teenage health and wellness are on the decline.”

“As we saw in the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health among students overall continues to worsen, with more than 40% of high school students feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the previous year—a possible indication of the experience of depressive symptoms. We also saw significant increases in the percentage of youth who seriously considered suicide, made a suicide plan, and attempted suicide.”

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The study also revealed that 14 of the 21 metrics used to track adolescent well-being have “stalled or are moving in the wrong direction.”

Clearly, whatever the cause, the future is far from bright for America’s young people. Despite having unprecedented access to wealth, technology, and education, we are unstable and spiraling downhill.

Of these troubled teens, there is a common stereotype that teenage girls are the most negatively affected. By some metrics, this is true. For example, female adolescents are more likely than their male peers to experience persistent sadness. But the study of teen well-being routinely downplays the seriousness of male suicide. A previously referenced report, for example, notes that female students are two times more likely to consider suicide, yet makes no mention of the fact that nearly four times as many males die of suicide.

“Being male is the biggest risk factor for suicide,” revealed author Richard V. Reeves. Unfortunately, health experts seem to be in denial about this tragic fact. “I’ve encountered people in very senior positions, including a professor who spoke on a panel about teen mental health and suicide, who don’t know about the gender gap in suicide. I’ve had members of Congress tell me I’ve got this the wrong [way] around.”

Regardless, the data is clear.

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From 2020 to 2021 alone, the number of male suicides climbed four percent, from 36,551 to 38,025. By contrast, female suicides ticked up two percent to 9,621 over the same timeframe.

Both numbers are alarmingly high. But why does only the 9,621 get talked about? Over 38,000 of our men and boys killed themselves in 2021, and yet we still assume that suicide “primarily impacts women.”

Everyone seems to have a theory as to why young Americans have hit an all-time low. In this particular piece, I won’t lay out my theory. But one thing is clear: we are trending in the wrong direction.

We must begin to grapple with the fact that, in today’s world, simply “[b]eing male is the biggest risk factor for suicide.” Many have argued that if men would just be more open about their feelings the problem might be mitigated. Maybe. But if men are biologically disinclined to talk about their feelings, then that cannot be the sole solution. If the so-called “social construct” of masculinity is actually derived from men’s biology, as psychologist John Barry has argued, then urging them to go against it might prove to be counterproductive.

Whatever the cause and remedy may be, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this crisis any longer.

Millions of unwell teens are crying out — perhaps silently — for meaning. Will we give it to them? Or will America steamroll full-speed ahead into the dark, lonely, unhappy future that currently awaits us?

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

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