Why Are At-Risk Teens So Sad?

Why are at-risk youth so sad? ARISE Evidence-Based Life Skills Curriculum and Staff Training

The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental health crisis. According to the CDC, from 2009-2021, the share of American high school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent. This is the highest record of teenage sadness ever recorded.

The reasons behind sadness in at-risk teens can be complex and multifaceted, as everyone’s circumstances and experiences are unique. However, there are several common factors that may contribute to the sadness of at-risk teens:

  1. Family Issues: Many at-risk teens come from homes with dysfunctional family dynamics, such as parental conflict, divorce, substance abuse, or neglect. Family problems can have a significant impact on a teenager's emotional well-being.
  2. School Challenges: Academic difficulties, bullying, and a lack of support or engagement in school can contribute to feelings of frustration, failure, and sadness in at-risk teens.
  3. Peer Pressure and Social Issues: At-risk teens may face challenges related to peer pressure, social isolation, or difficulties forming healthy relationships. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, rejection, or inadequacy.
  4. Substance Abuse: Teens at risk may be more susceptible to substance abuse, which can further contribute to emotional struggles and exacerbate existing issues.
  5. Mental Health Concerns: At-risk teens may be more vulnerable to mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or conduct disorders. These conditions can significantly impact mood and overall well-being.
  6. Traumatic Experiences: Exposure to trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse, violence, or significant life changes, can contribute to feelings of sadness and distress.
  7. Social Media Use: It is more like alcohol, a mildly addictive substance that can enhance social situations but can lead to dependency and depressions. Teens are sensitive to the judgment of friends. Social media replaces other activities and teens spend more than five hours a day on social media.
  8. Economic Disadvantage: Financial struggles within the family can lead to stress and a sense of instability, impacting the emotional well-being of at-risk teens.
  9. Lack of Positive Role Models: Some at-risk teens may lack positive role models or mentors in their lives, which can contribute to a lack of guidance and support.
  10. Cultural or Identity Issues: Issues related to cultural identity, discrimination, or a sense of not fitting in can contribute to sadness and emotional distress.

How you can Support At-Risk Teens Who Are Experiencing Sadness

  1. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where teens feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Offer empathy and validate their feelings. Be a supportive listener. Support their feelings of self-worth.
  3. Teach them about risky behaviors.
  4. Encourage positive choices.
  5. Indicate healthy coping mechanisms.

ARISE offers life skills for at-risk teens: ARISE Life Skills Program for High School Students (41 Books, plus plus plus)