A new CDC report released this week shows that a majority of teen girls in the U.S. feel persistently sad or hopeless, double that of boys. The data collected in 2021 represents a nearly 60 percent increase among girls and the highest level reported over the last decade.
Across almost all measures of substance use, experiences of violence, mental health, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, female students are faring more poorly than male students. These differences, and the rates at which female students are reporting such negative experiences, are stark.
“High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive,” said Debra Houry, the CDC’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science. “Proven school prevention programs can offer teens a vital lifeline in these growing waves of trauma.”
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 percent) seriously considered attempting suicide – up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago.
- 1 in 5 (18 percent) experienced sexual violence in the past year – up 20 percent since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.
- More than 1 in 10 (14 percent) had ever been forced to have sex – up 27 percent since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.
The new report also confirms ongoing and extreme distress among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+).
The report found more than half (52 percent) of LGBQ+ students had recently experienced poor mental health and, concerningly, that more than 1 in 5 (22 percent) attempted suicide in the past year.
Race and ethnicity
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,” said CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D. “With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish.”
Role of schools
School-based activities can make a profound difference in the lives of teens with a relatively small infusion of support to schools, according to the CDC.
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.
If you or someone you know needs support now,
call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
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