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CDC: Teen girls ‘engulfed’ in sadness, violence

February 13, 2023

Teen girls are experiencing record high levels of violence and persistent sadness, according to a new report.

Leaders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are raising the alarm about findings from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and calling for schools to intervene.

“These data show a distressing picture,” Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., CDC’s chief medical officer and deputy director for program and science, said in a press conference Monday. “America’s teen girls are engulfed in a growing wave of sadness, violence and trauma.”

The survey, a nationally representative study done every two years, showed that 57% of teen girls experienced persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021, up from 36% in 2011. These feelings lasted at least two weeks and disrupted their usual activities. Persistent sadness or hopeless were reported by 29% of teen boys in 2021 up from 21% in 2011.

Graphic on teen mental health

About 30% of females and 14% of males reported seriously considering attempting suicide in the 2021 survey, up from 19% and 13%, respectively in 2011. The 2021 data also show 13% of females and 7% of males had attempted suicide during the previous year.

“While much attention has been given to the youth mental health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, YRBS data have shown that many measures were moving in the wrong direction before the pandemic,” said Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. “These data show the mental health crisis among young people continues.”

Teen girls also are experiencing record high levels of violence. In 2021, about 18% reported experiencing sexual violence, up from 15% in 2017. In addition, 14% reported being physically forced to have sex when they did not want to, a figure that previously had been relatively steady at 10% or 11%.

Graphic on sexual violence

“For every 10 teenage girls you know, at least one of them and probably more has been raped,” Dr. Ethier said. “This tragedy cannot continue.”

LGBTQ youth also continue to struggle with mental health concerns and violence at higher rates than their peers. In 2021, 69% reported persistent sadness or hopelessness, 52% experienced poor mental health, 27% were bullied online, 23% were bullied at school and 22% attempted suicide, according to the survey.

The AAP has been sounding the alarm on mental health issues. In 2021, the AAP and its partners declared a national emergency in children’s mental health citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges. Last fall, they renewed their call for federal action. The AAP also has been providing tools and guidance to help pediatricians address youth mental health concerns (see resources).

The CDC on Monday called on schools to take action. It suggested providing teacher training on mental health, making sure schools are safe for vulnerable youths, offering mentorship programs for students, connecting students to mental health services and educating students on sexual consent and managing emotions.

“These data are clear. Our young people are in crisis,” Dr. Ethier said. “And schools are on the front lines of this crisis, and they must be equipped with the tools to support young people.”





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