America is facing a pandemic unrelated to COVID. It is a mental health crisis. 40 percent of incoming freshmen at our elite universities are already on anti-depressants. Depressed and alienated young men are increasingly eschewing college, marriage, and gainful employment in favor of living in their parent’s basements smoking weed, watching porn, playing video games, and all too often either killing themselves or others. It is the rare high or middle school these days that does not have a suicide help line.
Recently the CDC reported that 57 percent of teen girls report being “constantly sad,” and 30 percent have “seriously considered suicide.” So, what’s going so wrong for our girls?
Of course, the “experts” and mainstream media continually round up the usual suspect: social media. But while social media may be a contributing factor, it was back in the late 1990’s – long before social media— when I was mentoring university students, that I began seeing more and more anxious and depressed young women “self-medicating” through anorexia, bulimia, cutting themselves, burning themselves with cigarettes, and obsessively compulsively pulling out their hair.
Here are a few alternate causes for this crisis among girls. Causes never seriously considered by the academic and political elites in our culture.
- Divorce. Divorce is traumatic for boys and girls. But girls often blame themselves: “If I was just a better little girl Daddy would have loved me and he wouldn’t have left.”
- Sex. Kids are being sexualized at younger and younger ages and girls who get into sex too young and with too many partners end up feeling used and devalued. The result is depression and a serious blow to their self-esteem.
- Absent Fathers. Whether through divorce or illegitimacy, many girls lose that strong male father figure to show them what to look for in men and to make them feel safe and protected. Often this trauma is compounded by the pain and confusion engendered when their mothers invite a series of boyfriends into their home.
- Missing Mothers. We now take it for granted that mothers working outside the home and the “latch key kids” this generates is economically necessary and completely harmless to children. Perhaps it is not. Maybe boys and especially girls need their mother to be available when they need her, not merely when she comes home dead tired from work toting yet another pizza for a late supper.
- Lack of Spirituality. With the decline of organized religion and the triumph of materialism, young girls are being increasingly deprived of the transcendent meaning and higher purpose that is essential to their well-being. As Carl Jung said, “Whether God exists is a legitimate question. That man needs a God is an incontrovertible fact.”
- Marijuana smoking. Marijuana is NOT a harmless drug, and it is increasingly associated with mental illness. We’ve spent 50 years stigmatizing cigarette smoking just in time to legitimize pot smoking.
- Missing Road Map. Down through history, every society created a road map for their young called “rites of passage.” These road maps guided young boys and girls through the tangled twists and turns of adolescence on their journey to adulthood. Every society outlined in great detail what society expected from women and what they could expect and rely on in turn. In the last fifty years we have “deconstructed” these roadmaps leaving our young people to “figure it all out for yourself.” Girls are struggling to come of age in a society where even a female supreme court justice claims she does not know what the definition of a woman is. Is it any wonder so many young girls seem confused and depressed?
- The Feminist Ideal. Often the feminist ideal for women is nothing more than a “me too” replica of a masculine model. Not long ago, if you asked adolescent girls what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would almost universally say: “To be a wife and mother.”
That model has been hunted to extinction. No girl in her right mind would admit to such a “demeaning” goal today. Today’s young girl is expected to grow into an assertive, driven, sharp elbowed, rugged individualist who always takes the lead, stands on her own two feet, eschews anything smacking of “dependence on a man,” and evaluates herself strictly by how much money she makes and how far she rises on the corporate ladder.
What if this masculine model isn’t what many girls really want? What if family, relationships, community, romantic love, and motherhood are a lot more important to millions of girls than they feel comfortable admitting —even to themselves? We now teach girls these longings are a sign of weakness and source of dependency. What if many young women feel like square pegs being forced into round holes originally bored for men? Worse, they feel guilty and blame themselves for even having these outmoded and “unacceptable” feelings.
* * *
It is unclear whether any of these factors are playing into the sorry situation among young girls. And if so, how much. But it is deeply problematic that our culture is so utterly invested in new orthodoxies for women and girls that few would dare raise these issues, let alone fund the research necessary to examine them objectively. It is so much easier to keep beating up social media than consider issues that would take soul searching, serious thinking, and momentous remedial measures to overcome.
AUGUST TURAK is a successful corporate executive, entrepreneur, award-winning author, speaker, and consultant. He is the founder of the educational nonprofit the August Turak Foundation. Turak writes and raises cattle on his seventy-five-acre cattle farm near Raleigh, NC.