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February 14, 2023

Teen girls are facing 'alarming' levels of violence, suicidal thoughts, CDC says

Nearly two-thirds of teenage girls reported feeling hopeless in 2021. One-third contemplated killing themselves

Children's Health Mental Health
Mental health teen girls Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Overall, 57% of teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, a new CDC report finds. That's a nearly 60% increase from 2011 and the highest level reported over the past decade.

Teenage girls are experiencing overwhelming sadness and increased suicidal thoughts, according to a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday. They also are being subjected to high levels of violence.

The report, which relied on a national survey of 17,232 high school students conducted in late 2021, provides a snapshot of the mental health challenges teens have faced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though suicidal thoughts and exposure to violence have increased among all teens, teen girls and LGBTQ+ teens are suffering the most, the report found.

Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC's division of adolescent and school health, called the findings "alarming."

"Many measures were moving in the wrong direction before the pandemic," Ethier said during a media briefing. "These data show the mental health crisis among young people continues." 

More than 40% of high school students said that feelings of sadness or hopelessness kept them from their regular activities for at least two weeks out of the year. Overall, 57% of teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 – a nearly 60% increase from 2011 and the highest level reported over the past decade – compared to 29% of teen boys.

Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls considered attempting suicide, a rate that also has increased over the past decade. 

Among LGBTQ+ teens, 52% reported experienced poor mental health, and more than 1 in 5 had attempted suicide in the past year. Nearly 25% said they had been bullied in school in 2021; about 30% reported being bullied online.

The number of teens who skip school due to safety concerns also is on the rise, the CDC found. Teen girls have been subjected to increased sexual violence; electronic bullying has risen among teen boys. 

The CDC says that the number of youth who didn't go to school due to safety concerns is also on the rise, with increased sexual violence against teen girls a troubling concern. Eighteen percent of teen girls said they had experienced sexual violence in the last year – a 20% increase since 2017. And 1 in 7 reported having been forced to have sex at some point in their lives – a 27% increase since 2019.

There were a few positive trends – declines in risky sexual behavior, substance use and bullying at school – but most measures of adolescent health and well-being had "worsening significantly," the CDC said.

The survey also found that racial and ethnic disparities continue to persist. Black and Hispanic students were more likely than other students to miss school because of safety concerns, and Hispanic and multiracial students were more likely than Asian, Black and white students to have persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

During the media briefing, CDC leaders and National PTA President Anna King said that teachers need better training to manage the mental health challenges of their students. Teachers and parents need to have more conversations with children about their feelings and what is going on their lives, they added.

"With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish," Ethier said.

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, contact the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

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