An Echo Press Editorial: New study shows young girls need support

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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A new study of young people’s risky behaviors screams for help.

It’s a warning bell for parents, guardians, teachers, school leaders, all those who interact with young people – and young people themselves. Released last week by the Centers for Disease Control, the 2021 report examined health behaviors and experiences among U.S. high school students.

The data shows nearly three in five U.S. teen girls — 57% — felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. The percentage is double that of boys, representing a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade.

It’s the first survey conducted since the pandemic. It shows how youth mental health has continued to worsen, with widespread reports of harmful experiences among teen girls. The most chilling findings:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide. That’s up nearly 60% from a decade ago.
  • 1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year – up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.

An organization called BIO Girls is trying to change those troubling statistics. It was founded in Fargo in 2013 and builds self-esteem among girls in grades two through 11. BIO Girls leaders say that responding to the report’s findings will take a concentrated effort from many different groups.
"While the CDC report focused on the role of schools, we believe it will take an active partnership between schools, non-profits, health care providers and parents,” said Missy Heilman, executive director and founder of BIO Girls, in a news release. “Investments should be made in programs, like BIO Girls, focused on preventing mental health issues so that we can start to relieve the burden on schools and the health care system.”


BIO stands for Beauty, Inside and Out.

Alexandria is fortunate to have a BIO Girls program. There are still about 20 openings for this year’s program. To register, go to .

BIO Girls programming, which is up and running in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, focuses on three evidence-based techniques for improving self-esteem, a primary predictor of mental health issues in girls: 1) Mentoring, 2) Character-building curriculum, and 3) Physical activity.

It’s making a difference. For the past five years, seven of 10 participants in the BIO Girls program have experienced a significant increase in self-esteem; and 50% have decreased feelings of anxiety, Heilman said.

Earlier this year, BIO Girls launched a program focused on teen girls. The pilot results are impressive:

  • 100% of participants experienced increased self-compassion. This means that participants were kinder to themselves by the end of the program. 
  • Participants significantly decreased their feelings of isolation, a specific component of self-compassion. This means that they were significantly less likely to feel that others were happier than them or that they were alone in their failures by the end of the program.
  • Five out of six teens experienced decreased stress and GAD symptoms. This means that participants felt less stress and anxiety by the end of the program.  

BIO Girls Youth and Teen programs are volunteer-led, turn-key programs. If you cannot commit to volunteering, you can support a scholarship or make a donation by going to the Alexandria BIO Girls Facebook page.

Heilman offered hope: “You can be a difference maker. Together we can change the statistics.”

If you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. Call or text 988. Chat at Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365. Visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for more information at

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