US counselors provide a safe space as teen depression rates rise

It’s not uncommon to walk by US Counselor Emily Barbee’s office in the upper library and see the door closed, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t available. In fact, it means the opposite.

With the rise in depression rates amongst teenagers, Barbee and her colleagues Heidi Lohman and Amy Stoks find themselves connecting with students more than ever.

A February report released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) details the rising teen depression rates in the United States. Mental illnesses, violence, and suicidal behaviors continue to be prominent issues facing young people, and they are only getting worse.

Within the population, teen girls are dealing with severe rates of depression. 57% felt consistently sad or hopeless in 2021, while 29% of boys felt this way, a significantly lower percentage. Additionally, nearly one in three teen girls considered attempting suicide.

The factors driving gender disparities in mental illnesses form a long list. Barbee said, “[Women are] not seeing representation of [their] identity in politics, in the media, in the movies, affirmations through equal pay, equal access to health care… [the female] mortality rate is going up, maternal death in childbirth is going up.” All of these issues are depressing and frustrating, contributing to feelings of hopelessness in women and girls.

However, a different aspect behind the high rates of depression among girls is the fact that they are more likely to report these feelings than boys. “That’s a problem for our male folks, that they get overlooked,” Barbee said. This may be driven by traditional gender norms that limit boys and men to being less emotional or vulnerable.

Another significant problem facing the female teen population is sexual violence, which has also risen. One in five girls experienced sexual violence in 2021.

The CDC report also found that teens identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community faced disproportionately high levels of depression. More than half experience poor mental health and over one in five attempted suicide in 2021.

Hannah Brass, student leader of Rainbow Connection and Gender & Sexuality Alliance, commented on this LGBTQ+ experience: “I think that we are affected more because there is a lot more hate directed toward us as a group.”

Brass mentioned anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rising rates of violence as key factors in decreasing happiness. “At least 22 states have already banned or are in the process of banning gender-affirming healthcare for youth, almost 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are being proposed across the country, and violence against LGBTQ+ people has risen,” she said.

At least 22 states have already banned or are in the process of banning gender-affirming healthcare for youth, almost 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are being proposed across the country, and violence against LGBTQ+ people has risen.

— Hannah Brass

The key to lowering rates of depression and other mental illnesses is to provide greater education and support to teens. Schools play an important role in providing information about emotional well-being, consensual sex, and other relevant topics. They can offer the guidance of counseling staff to provide a safe space for students to share their feelings and experiences.

“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” said CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D. “With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish.”

The Upper School campus has three counselors dedicated to supporting students socially and emotionally during this transformative and challenging period of their lives. Barbee, Lohman and Stoks all have extensive backgrounds in counseling and mental health.

Though mental help from the counselors looks different in every case, the overall goal of the counseling program remains the same for everyone: “If there’s something going on, like a problem with a friend, or a relationship, or grief, or a time of stress, or maybe depression, maybe anxiety, we recognize you need additional supports at school,” Barbee said.

Overall, though different factors cause depression in different demographics, Barbee believes that the key to improving emotional well-being is community.“Prioritizing positive human connection above all, I think that’s really important,” she said. “Making sure […] that our students have time to be human, to be teenagers, and interact with each other, and have fun.”

The counseling team understands that increased rates of depression, as reported by the CDC, are evident in the SPA community and emphasizes that they are a resource for students seeking help.

Emily Barbee – [email protected]
Amy Stoks – [email protected]
Heidi Lohman – [email protected]
Suicide & Crisis Hotline – 988
Minnesota Mental Health Support –