Youth Behavioral Risk Survey highlights a national trend of declining mental health in teens

By Kaden Silva and Brock Fortman

Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls seriously considered attempting suicide — up nearly 60% from a decade ago — according to a survey that sampled around 17,000 high school students across the US. The CDC’s findings indicate a widespread decline in youth mental health and a severe increase in mental health problems. 

The Centers for Disease Control published a report based on the Youth Behavioral Risk Survey, a rolling survey that takes a nationally representative sample of key risk behaviors in high school students within the United States. 

Comparing the most recent survey to previous surveys highlights multiple worrying trends. Within the period of 2011 to 2021, the percentage of high school students who have felt persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness increased from 28% to 42%. Students who have seriously considered suicide increased from 16% to 22%. Students who made a suicide plan increased from 13% to 18%, and those who attempted suicide increased from 8% to 10%.

Some key statistics within subgroups show 60% of female students in 2021 report consistent hopelessness or sadness, and 25% of female students report having made a suicide plan. Male students reveal that 29% suffer from consistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness. 70% of LGBTQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness.  

Across all subgroups and categories teens are struggling with their mental health. The report states these statistics have less consistent patterns within subgroups, such as minorities and LGBTQ+ people. Some groups, according to the study, are disproportionately affected.

Bellbrook High School Principal David Hann said he has noticed these trends. “I’ve been here since 2010, and I would say there has been an increase in mental health issues,” Hann said. “It’s everywhere, not just here; there’s more visible things here than in the past.” 

Some positive trends in this report indicate that key risk factors have improved from previous surveys. Risky sexual behavior, prescription drug abuse, substance abuse, and bullying at school have all decreased, according to the report. In the period from 2011 to 2021, bullying at school decreased from 20% to 15%, and youths who have had four or more sexual partners have decreased from 15% to 6%. 

The CDC discusses some salient preventative actions that need to be taken to help the mental health of students nationally in their report in their report. They claim that increasing parent oversight, providing quality health education to all grades, increasing school connectedness, and ensuring the environment for schooling is safer and more supportive all play a vital role in reducing the chances that teens suffer from mental health problems and participate in risky behaviors. 

“Kids today are more isolated, even before COVID,” Hann said. “You can play video games online, not in the same room, that’s been a cultural shift, a technological shift. People text more, and can call each other on the phone; social media has played a large part in it. 

“You can control your Instagram, make yourself look good. ‘I’m having fun all the time.’ You look at that, you think ‘Man, my life sucks.’ This happens with adults too. It kind of aligns: the rise of Facebook and Instagram, and all of those things.”

The Bellbrook High School administration has taken steps to increase mental health support systems within the building. 

“The goal is to provide that mental health support, as best we can. We have tried to bring in outside mental health support, with some success,” Hann said. “We advocate with district administration to add more counseling and mental health therapists. We’re always looking for ways to add to it.”

Challenges nationally have also affected the administration’s ability to support students’ mental health. Locally, Hann suggests the demand for counselors has far outstripped the number of specialists who are qualified to support them.

“I know kids who are trying to get into counseling, and sometimes, it’s just almost impossible,” Hann said. “There’s not enough counselors and therapists for the amount of need, right now. If we can provide some of that here, that’s a good thing.” 

Dr. Victor Fornari, the vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry for Northwell Health, New York’s largest health system, has observed that the number of adolescents coming to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center has dramatically increased in recent years in a recent article in the New York Times. In 1982, there were 250 visits by suicidal adolescents. In 2010, the number had increased to 3,000. By 2022, it had increased to 8,000.

If students need help with mental health issues, Mr. Hann recommended that they seek their counselors, or talk to their parents. “There’s a suicide hotline out there, 988. There’s hotlines everywhere.”

If you have the urge to harm yourself, regularly feel sad or hopeless, are with a person who harms you physically or emotionally, or if you just feel like you need someone to talk to, please call 988, and talk to your parents or an adult whom you trust. 


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