CDC: Alarming Uptick in Violence, Hopelessness Among Teen Girls


The CDC is reporting alarming increases in the rates of sadness, hopelessness, violence, and suicidal ideation among teen girls.

Nearly three in five (57%) said they felt “persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021, a rate that doubled boys and represented a large jump from the 36% reporting that in 2011, according to findings from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

Furthermore, 30% of teen girls seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021 (up from 19% in 2011) and nearly 25% reported making suicide plans. The survey also revealed record-high rates of violence toward teen girls, with 18% saying they experienced sexual violence in the past year and 14% saying they had been forced to have sex, both increases since the agency started tracking these measures.

The report also detailed mental health challenges among lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+) students, with over half saying they recently experienced poor mental health and 22% having attempted suicide in the past year. (No trend data were available for this group.)

Teen boys also experienced a rise in persistent sadness and hopelessness news, increasing from 21% in 2011 to 29% in 2021, and analyses by race and ethnicity revealed “worsening levels of persistent sadness or hopelessness” across all groups, and increases in reported suicide attempts among Black and white youth, according to a press release.

While Black students were less likely to report experiencing poor mental health and “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” than students from other racial and ethnic groups, they were “significantly more likely than Asian, Hispanic, and white students to have attempted suicide.”

The current YRBS report is the first conducted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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, MD, MPH, CDC chief medical officer, in a press release.

“Proven school prevention programs can offer teens a vital lifeline in these growing waves of trauma,” noted Houry, who also is deputy director for program and science.

Even before the pandemic, more than 40% of high school students reported feeling “so sad or hopeless” that they did not participate in their usual activities for more than 2 weeks in the prior year, a possible signal of depressive symptoms, the CDC noted.

There was some good news, such as less engagement in “risky sexual behavior” and some improvements around substance use related to “ever use” of certain illicit drugs, prescription opioids, and current alcohol and marijuana use, according to the report.

For the first time, YRBS had questions on social determinants of health and protective factors.

The report pointed out that “school connectedness” — defined as “feeling close to people at school” — offered a “long-lasting, protective impact for adolescents well into adulthood on almost all the behaviors and experiences included in this report.” Notably, female students, students of color, LGBQ+ students, and those with same sex partners were “least likely” to report feeling connected to others at their school.

The CDC noted that “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.”

The YRBS report was produced by the CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health. Survey data are collected every 2 years from a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with a mental health concern or having thoughts of suicide, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

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    Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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