By Casey Smith | Indiana Capital Chronicle
For The Tribune
INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier girls are increasingly facing mental health challenges — and many of their struggles are going unnoticed or unaddressed.
That’s according to a new report published this month by the Indiana Youth Institute and the Girl Coalition of Indiana.
The 2023 State of the Indiana Girl Report — the first of its kind — dives into mental health data and surveys completed by school-aged kids across the state.
The report found that Hoosier girls are “experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis.” Their symptoms can be easy to hide and often go unnoticed, according to the study, and even when they seek help, there is a shortage of mental health professionals — especially in schools.
Data indicates that nearly half of Hoosier girls in grades 7-12 experienced depression in 2022, and close to one in four girls seriously considered suicide. The report also found that girls in Indiana are twice as likely as boys to become victims of traditional bullying, and three times as likely to become victims of cyberbullying.
“There is a stark discrepancy between the mental and physical health of Indiana’s girls and their male counterparts,” said Girl Coalition of Indiana Executive Director, Mackenzie Pickerell, in a statement. “This report shines a light on what many of us knew already, our girls are not ok, and we must act now to remove the barriers that exist throughout Indiana which prevent our girls from thriving.”
Strains on mental health
More than 6,000 Indiana girls in high school not just considered suicide, but began to engage and think about the details of how they would carry it out, according to the report.
At least 16,835 Hoosier girls in grades 7-12 indicated they experienced depression from 2021-2022. Nearly a quarter of female respondents indicated that they had seriously considered attempting suicide sometime in the past year.
More than 8,000 middle school and high school girls further reported they had “seriously considered” taking their life during the same school year. About 17.5% of high school girls surveyed said they made a plan to attempt suicide.
Girls, especially teenage girls, are more likely to develop mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, researchers said. They’re also at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms at earlier ages.
That’s because girls and boys process emotional stimuli differently, and because girls typically undergo puberty and emotional maturity earlier than their male counterparts.
The study emphasizes that when factors like bullying and trauma are present in a girl’s life, however, the risk and manifestation of mental health disorders increases. Many adolescents have also yet to fully develop healthy coping methods and regulation while in high school.
School-aged kids are more likely to get proper care — and better long-term success — when they have involved parents, trusted mentors, and access to trained mental health professionals.
On average, 87.3% of Hoosier girls reported having an adult in their lives that they felt comfortable seeking help from, compared to 81% of boys.
Even so, the report noted that students in Indiana continue to lack access to mental health professionals and counselors in schools — a critical resource and first stop for many kids seeking help.
Indiana’s student-to-counselor ratio is currently the highest in the country, with schools employing just 1,494 counselors statewide for more than 1 million students. Compared to the national average, that’s 286 more students per counselor.
Even last year’s ratio of 475 students per counselor put Indiana far above the American School Counselor Association’s recommendation of 250-to-1.
Separately, student-to-school psychologist ratios in Indiana are 4.5 times higher than recommended, and caseloads for social workers are 11 times higher, according to the 2023 report.
Bullying and violence
Hoosier girls also report higher rates of bullying.
In 2021, 19.7% of high school girls in Indiana reported being bullied on school property, while 22.1% of girls reported having been cyberbullied — nearly double the rate of traditional bullying and triple the rate of cyberbullying among boys, according to the report.
The rate of physical and sexual dating violence has additionally increased among Hoosier girls from 2015 to 2021, while the prevalence of physical and sexual dating violence among boys has decreased.
In 2021, high school girls reported experiencing sexual violence at five times the rate of high school boys.
The study also found that girls were admitted for inpatient care at a hospital more than three times the rate of boys in 2021.
Among all youth in Indiana ages 0-4, girls made up 65% of emergency room visits and 76% of all inpatient hospital stays. Over 33,000 girls were admitted for inpatient care in 2021, more than tripling the rate of boys’ inpatient care.
While the report indicates there are not wide gaps in health insurance coverage between byys and girls, 6.5% of Indiana girls were not covered by health insurance in 2021 — equal to roughly 50,000 girls in Indiana who did not have access to health insurance. Of those who were covered, 33.8% received coverage via public health insurance
Youth and mental health advocates said the research can be used as a “roadmap” or foundation for providing the necessary resources to encourage safe environments for girls, especially when it comes to navigating sensitive topics, such as mental health, sexual dating violence, gender bias and bullying.
“Our plan is to share this research with families, educators, youth-development providers, and influencers, providers as a means for arming them with pathways for having courageous conversations at home, developing programming, and passing legislation that will improve the quality of life for all girls in Indiana,” Pickerrell said.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle covers Indiana state government and the state legislature. For more, visit indianacapitalchronicle.com.