According to new CDC data released recently, nearly 3 in 5 (57%) U.S. teen girls felt continuously depressed or hopeless in 2021 - double that of boys, marking a nearly 60% increase and the greatest level observed over the preceding decade.
While all youth reported growing mental health issues, violent situations, and suicidal thoughts and acts, girls outperformed boys on nearly every measure. The new survey also indicates that youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+) face chronic and severe distress.
“High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope and thrive. Proven school prevention programs can offer teens a vital lifeline in these growing waves of trauma,” Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., CDC’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science said, according to a recent CDC release.
The analysis includes 2021 data and trends from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which examines health behaviors and experiences among U.S. high school students. Youth mental health has continued to worsen - with particularly stark increases in widespread reports of harmful experiences among teen girls: - nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—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; - more than 1 in 10 (14%) had ever been forced to have sex—up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.
The report also found more than half (52%) of LGBQ+ students had recently experienced poor mental health and, concerningly, that more than 1 in 5 (22%) attempted suicide in the past year. Trend data are not available for students who identify as LGBQ+ due to changes in survey methods.
Findings by race and ethnicity also show high and worsening levels of persistent sadness or hopelessness across all racial and ethnic groups, and that reported suicide attempts increased among Black youth and White youth.
“Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion. With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish,” CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director, Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D. mentioned.
School-based activities can make a profound difference in the lives of teens with a relatively small infusion of support to schools. More than 95% of U.S. youth spend much of their daily lives in school. While their primary goal is academic learning, schools can take evidence-based steps to foster the knowledge, skills, and support needed to help prevent and reduce the negative impact of violence and other trauma and improve mental health. For example, safe and trusted adults—like mentors, trained teachers, and staff—can help foster school connectedness, so that teens know the people around them care about them, their well-being, and their success. Schools can provide education that equips teens with essential skills, such as understanding and ensuring true sexual consent, managing emotions, and asking for what they need. Schools can also connect teens to their classmates and communities through school-based clubs and community outreach.
CDC has collected and analyzed data on youth health and well-being for more than three decades. These data are a critical first step to revealing, understanding and addressing emerging threats to the health and well-being of the nation’s youth.