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‘Alarming Data’ on Youth Mental Health

February 15, 2023

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey offered a concerning look at the nation’s youth mental health crisis, particularly among teen girls and LGBQ+ adolescents. 

The 2021 report, released this week, indicates America’s teenagers are reporting dramatic increases in experiences with violence, poor mental health, and suicide risk. The disparities are particularly stark among girls and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, or another non-heterosexual identity (LGBQ+), CDC officials said.

“These data are hard to hear and should result in action,” Debra Houry, MD, MPH, CDC chief medical officer, said during a media briefing this week.

Among the takeaways:

  • Teen girls:  The report indicated 57 percent of female students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a rate that is nearly double that of boys, and a nearly 60 percent increase from 2021
    • About 30 percent of teen girls had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year
    • The number of teen girls reporting they had experienced sexual violence also increased 20 percent from 2017 to 2021
  • LGBQ+ youth:  About 52 percent LGBQ+ students reported having poor mental health during the past 30 days
    • About 45 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year
  • Overall rates:  More than 40 percent of high school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the past year
  • Improving areas:  About 23 percent of high school students reported drinking alcohol during the past 30 days. That’s compared to about 39 percent a decade prior. Rates for substance use and bullying also improved, but overall most health and wellbeing indicators “worsened significantly.”
  • Quotable:  “Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion,” said Kathleen Ethier, PhD, director, CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

The report notes the critical role of schools and evidence-based approaches to care to improve the negative trends in youth mental health. This includes a focus on growing “the knowledge, skills, and support needed to help prevent and reduce the negative impact of violence and other trauma and improve mental health.”

The CDC survey findings are available to review online.

Note: The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is available online or by texting or calling 988.