October 2, 2023

Indiana girls are more sad than ever. This group wants to fix that.



Indiana teens are in a mental health crisis. Depression has been on the rise for two decades. And it’s hitting girls especially hard. 

A recent report from the Girl Coalition of Indiana found that in 2022, nearly half of middle and high school girls experienced depression. It also found that close to one in four girls considered suicide. 

The report doesn’t tell us why girls are suffering more. But it points to some potential causes. High school girls are more than twice as likely to become victims of bullying at school, and more than three times as likely to be victims of bullying online. 

The Girl Coalition is a project of the Girl Scouts of Indiana, which launched last year. It aims to increase Girl Scout membership among girls from low-income families, and study the challenges facing Indiana girls and how the state can respond.

WFYI spoke with executive director Mackenzie Pickerrell about the group and the wellness of girls in Indiana. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dylan Peers McCoy: The group describes its mission as enabling girls to live their best lives physically, academically, emotionally and socially. Why was the girl coalition formed? What gap does it fill?

Mackenzie Pickerrell: The Girl Coalition of Indiana was formed in partnership with the six Girl Scout councils serving the state of Indiana. The purpose behind Girl Co. is to create accessible and equitable experiences through Girl Scouting for all Indiana girls. We are deeply embedded into communities to understand what girls need and then will serve as an innovation incubator to build programming to meet those needs. Then we will also meet the need of understanding where girls are by completing girls specific research to understand where they're thriving and where they are not. And then will advocate for systemic change to create impact in the lives of all Indiana girls.

McCoy: We're talking today because the coalition released its first report on the well being of girls. What stood out to you in that report?

Pickerrell: There are a lot of shocking data points in the 2023 Indiana Girl Report. The message was really clear though — girls are in a state of crisis, and they have enormous potential. One of the data points that was most shocking to me is the mental health crisis. Forty-seven percent of middle and high school girls in Indiana last year reported feeling depressed, and one in four girls seriously contemplated suicide. Those statistics are really alarming.

McCoy: Why are we seeing those increases in depression among girls? And do we know why girls are suffering more than boys?

Pickerrell: So the report is really focused on understanding what girls are facing. And our next step is really to understand why girls are experiencing these challenges at such a higher rate than boys. What we do know is that girls experienced bullying at a higher rate than boys for traditional bullying. That's two times the rate of boys. And for cyber bullying, that's three times the rate of boys. Girls experience the side effects and the consequences of bullying very differently than boys. It's often concealed. And it's hard to detect in the lives of girls.

McCoy: What should families and parents and loved ones be doing right now, those of us who are really worried about the well being of the girls in our lives?

Pickerrell: As a mom to a girl myself, these statistics were really alarming. And the good news is the conversation can start at home. What we know is that girls experience hardships and that their feelings and emotions are real. So it's important to start the conversation at home to understand what girls are experiencing, validate their concerns, their emotions and their feelings and listen with empathy.

Contact WFYI education reporter Dylan Peers McCoy at dmccoy@wfyi.org.

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