Her new NBC series explores the pandemic's disproportionate toll on the mental health of high school girls.

By Kylie Gilbert
Feb 15, 2021 @ 8:00 am
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Credit: NBC News / TODAY

Between the disproportionate share of both job losses and caregiving expectations, it's no surprise that the pandemic has been a stressful time for women, who are already twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety as men. But what may surprise you is that this stress gap starts years before most women are faced with the impossibility of a so-called 'work-life balance.'

In Savannah Guthrie's new week-long NBC series, 'Kids Under Pressure', the 'Today' show co-host is taking a look at the toll the pandemic is taking on the mental health of high schoolers, including students at her own alma mater. For the series, NBC News partnered with Challenge Success, a non-profit associated with Stanford's Graduate School of Education, to survey thousands of students across the country about their mental health both pre-and post-pandemic. 

What the new study found? Student stress is up as a result of the pandemic and engagement is down (no shock there) — but girls cited mental health issues as a major source of stress at more than twice the frequency as their male classmates.

"That was one of the big stunners from the research," Guthrie tells InStyle. "There's no question kids are feeling the stress and the study was very clear that girls feel it, or at least they're willing to identify it as mental health struggles and worries, at a rate much higher than their male counterparts."

"I went out and interviewed a bunch of kids this week, including some girls here in the Bronx area, and you could just see that the girls are just feeling the stress," Guthrie says. "They're feeling that they've got to stay on top of school and stay on top of their grades. They're feeling the social pressures. They're feeling the sadness and loneliness of being, you know, eight hours a day in front of a computer screen and not seeing their friends. They're definitely feeling it emotionally." While their male classmates are undoubtedly feeling the stress of the pandemic too, "it's clear that the girls internalize so much," Guthrie adds.

Girls and Stress roundtable with students at Woodlands High School in Hartsdale, NY
| Credit: NBC News

Still, the fact that mental health is such a topic of conversation these days is a step in the right direction, she says. "When I was in high school a long time ago, I don't even know if we taught this terminology; we didn't talk about mental health. We didn't talk about stress. And it was certainly nothing that your parents would be sympathetic to or understand, and your teachers as well," she says. "Even though it's disheartening to see how much stress the students are carrying, they also do, as a silver lining, have more resources and opportunities to meet with their teachers and talk about what's stressing them out."

So while Guthrie may still be a long way off from having a teenager under her roof, the takeaway for parents of girls is to talk more openly about mental health, she says. "I think talking is the best therapy. A few of the teens said after we did our interview, it helps just to talk about it, it helps to say these things."

As for how Guthrie is managing her own stress? "From all walks of life, people are under extraordinary stress because of this pandemic and whether you've had to deal with COVID or not, there's not one person that hasn't been impacted in some way. This is just one of those times where people have to give themselves a little bit of grace and try to in any way they can, in any moment, do something for themselves. So, for me, I just try to understand that and count my blessings," she says.

"And I think now people hopefully are starting to feel a little better. I feel like there's hope on the horizon and that life will return to something that we recognize very, very soon."