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October 19, 2023

Amid GOP Chaos, Pressley, Manning Host Dem. Women’s Caucus Shadow Hearing on Mental Health Crisis Among Teen Girls

Pressley Questions Experts About Proactive Mental Health Solutions, Culturally Appropriate Care for Students

“The mental health crisis afflicting our young girls requires – actually, demands – congressional action.”

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Kathy Manning (NC-06) hosted a Democratic Women’s Caucus (DWC) shadow hearing to examine the mental health crisis among teen girls and highlight root causes and solutions. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Pressley and Rep. Kathy Manning, who both serve as the DWC’s Policy Co-Chairs.

Right now, teen girls are up against a wide variety of factors that can lead to mental health challenges—from increased sexual violence, the influence of social media, eating disorders, higher levels of stress, and more. But too often, girls do not have access to the mental health care and support they need, or face stigma in asking for help. These challenges are particularly steep for Black girls, girls of color, the LGBTQ community, non-English speakers, and other underserved communities.

“The unprecedented hurt, harm, trauma, and grief that our young girls are carrying in their emotional backpacks is weighing on them, and this crisis demands congressional action,” said Rep Pressley. “I was proud to chair the Democratic Women’s Caucus hearing alongside Congresswoman Manning and continue my advocacy on behalf of young women and girls everywhere. Confronting the mental health crisis among teenage girls is going to require deliberate, intentional, and precise legislative action, and today’s testimony will help inform our work to support our LGBTQ+ youth, our girls with disabilities, and our girls of color.”

“Earlier this year, the CDC released chilling reports that showed teen girls are experiencing increased rates of suicidality and depression, and drastic impacts on their mental health from exposure to social media. Our teen girls need urgent mental health help,” said Rep. Manning. “I co-led the Democratic Women’s Caucus shadow hearing on this heartbreaking phenomenon to address the root causes of this crisis and explore actions Congress can take to help improve the mental health of teen girls. I remain steadfast in my commitment to address the youth mental health crisis.” 

Even amid House Republicans’ inaction on mental health and continuing dysfunction in electing a Speaker, the DWC shadow hearing shed light on the youth mental health crisis and examined how investments in schools’ mental health supports, the mental health care workforce, and more can begin to reverse this troubling trend among teen girls. At the hearing, the members also discussed how House Republicans’ proposed cuts to mental health supports for students would only make this crisis worse.

Witnesses from the hearing included: Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer at National Alliance on Mental Illness; Dr. Celeste Malone, PhD, MS, Associate Professor and School Psychology Program Coordinator at Howard University; Tami D. Benton, MD, President-Elect of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; and Mary Lawal, Youth Mental Health Advocate, Storyteller, and Student at Prince George’s County Community College.

Additional testimony from the witnesses includes:

The pandemic exacerbated an already acute mental health crisis among teen girls. 

  • Tami Benton, MD: “The social disruptions, fear and grief caused by the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down for all children, especially those vulnerable to mental illness and substance use disorders.” 
  • Celeste M. Malone, PhD, MS: “[T]he truth is the United States has been teetering on the brink of a youth mental health crisis for years. Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 6 children had a diagnosable mental health disorder, but only half received mental health treatment.” 
  • Mary Lawal: “At my church’s youth retreat there was a workshop discussion held for teen girls ages 13 and up. Sliver Ndoh … opened up about her experience and … explained as she broke down that during the pandemic it was one of the lowest times for her.” 

Underserved communities—including Black girls, girls of color, LGBTQ community, non-English speakers, and others—face steeper barriers to accessing mental health care.

  • Dr. Celeste Malone: “Oppression, including racism, ableism, homo and transphobia, that contributes to mental health distress also serves as a barrier to mental health treatment. … The state of girls’ mental health writ large is distressing. However, it is worse for girls of color; those who identify as LGBTQ, trans, or non-binary; and girls with disabilities as compared to their white, cisgender, heterosexual, and non-disabled peers.”
  • Tami Benton, MD: “A silent pediatric mental health pandemic [has been] building for decades, disproportionately impacting minoritized groups including racial, ethnic, and gender diverse youth, and those living in poverty.” 
  • Tami Benton, MD: “Between 2001 and 2017, suicide rates increased by 182% for Black female adolescents and Native American/Alaskan Native girls were more likely than any other group to have forced sex. … LGBQ+ youth, according to the same CDC report, were nearly four times as likely as their heterosexual peers to make a suicide attempt in 2021, with more than two in 10 reporting this experience.” 

Young women benefit hugely from having mental health supports at school.

  • Hannah Wesolowski: “To help address the burgeoning mental health crisis in teens, we need to meet children and adolescents where they are – in the pediatrician’s office, the family physician’s office, in schools, and in other systems of care – and therefore help eliminate barriers to mental and behavioral health care. … That starts with better, more consistent mental health education in schools so 3 our girls know the signs of mental health conditions in themselves or in others and where to go for help. It also includes training for teachers, school administrators, coaches and anyone consistently working with young people.” 
  • Dr. Celeste Malone: “A multifaceted approach of expanding access to culturally responsive and identity-affirming school mental health services, recruiting and retaining a school mental health workforce that reflects the diversity of the student population, and promoting mental health research to identify evidence-based treatments for girls, specifically from an intersectional lens.” 
  • Mary Lawal: “I wanted help because I knew it was getting bad, so I thought about talking to a professional at school because I didn’t know mental health services were an option for me as a young African American female child.”
  • Tami Benton, MD: “One of the positive findings of the CDC data this year, has been the finding that school connectedness was protective of children’s mental health, recommending that school based mental health services be expanded to foster connectedness and mental health” 

Teen girls are facing a wide variety of factors that can lead to mental health challenges—from increased sexual violence, the influence of social media, eating disorders, higher levels of stress, and more.

  • Tami Benton, MD: “This vulnerable demographic is prone to experiencing adverse effects from social media, including disruptions in sleep patterns, fostering unrealistic self-comparisons, adopting avoidant coping strategies, engaging in cyberbullying, and encountering predatory behaviors.” 
  • Tami Benton, MD: “As many as 20% of girls experienced sexual violence between 2011-2021. For sexual minority youth, 50% had poor mental health and 25% attempted suicide.”
  • Tami Benton, MD: “[Eating] disorders are frequently not noticed by others because they are internalizing disorders until the adolescent is struggling, has engaged in self-injurious or suicidal behaviors, or is malnourished. Unfortunately, these same girls are more vulnerable to negativity and bullying online.”

Congressional action is critical to solving the mental health crisis.  

  • Tami Benton, MD: “Congress should consider solutions for increasing the uptake of collaborative care arrangements, including those in pediatric practices. These programs must be funded adequately to include resources for start-up costs, in addition to ongoing technical assistance as the programs become established.” 
  • Celeste M. Malone, PhD, MS: “As members of Congress, you have the ability, and responsibility, to invest in efforts that will improve the mental health outcomes of our young people … Addressing the mental health workforce shortages and ultimately improving the mental health outcomes of girls requires sustained investment and action at the local, state, and federal level.”

Footage from the hearing can be found here.

In April 2023, Rep. Pressley re-introduced her Ending PUSHOUT Act, her bold legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway.

Rep. Pressley is also the lead sponsor of the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead invest resources to school districts to hire counselors, nurses, social workers and other health care providers. 

In March 2023, Rep. Pressley celebrated $250,000 in Community Project Funding she secured for Big Sister Association of Greater Boston (Big Sister) to support its one-to-one mentoring and enrichment programs for girls.

Rep Pressley introduced the STRONG Support for Children Act to take a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma.