The CDC surveys high school students every 2 years to identify behaviors and experiences associated with overall health and well-being. The most recent data has been released and includes trends through 2021. This is the first report since COVID-19. The following information will help all of us who work with teens be aware of current issues and needs and promote discussion with both young people and those who care for them.
Good news: Fewer high school students are having sex, and those who are sexually active have fewer sexual partners. 1 in 5 teens is currently sexually active compared to 1 in 3 teens 10 years ago. 30% of teens report ever having had sex in 2021 compared to 47% in 2011. These trends are consistent across all racial and ethnic groups.
Bad news: Condom use is decreasing as is testing for STDs.
Good news: Alcohol use is decreasing, and this holds true across all races and ethnicities. Marijuana use is also down as is vaping and illicit drugs.
Bad news: Opioid use is holding steady, and the decreases in overall substance use is more significant for males than females. Among females, the abuse of prescription opioids are holding steady.
Good news: fewer high school students are reporting that they are being physically bullied at school, and fewer males report being threatened or injured with a weapon at school.
Bad news: Cyberbullying is not decreasing, more students are not going to school because of safety concerns, and females report a slight increase in being forced to have sex and an overall increase in sexual violence.
Mental Health and Suicidality
Good news: Little good news here. The one positive data point is a decrease in attempted suicides and injuries from a suicide attempt among Asian youth.
Bad news: Overall significant increase in every racial and ethnic group of students who report they experience persistent sadness or hopelessness. Students who seriously considered suicide also increased, especially among Black, White, and Hispanic males. Suicide planning increased by 38% in females and attempted suicides increased 24% in females and 15% in males.
Good news: 86% of students reported that their parents or others in their families knew where they were and who they were with.
Bad news: Only 61% of students felt connected at school.
This is a mixed bag; while we should celebrate the decrease in substance use and physical bullying, the increase in cyberbullying, the significant and alarming decrease in adolescent mental health, and increase in adolescent suicidality is of concern.
We have work to do. Let’s increase the sense of connectedness that young people experience outside the family. We are all in positions to have influence as youth service providers, and with that connectedness, we may be able to guide vulnerable youth towards treatments and interventions that will alleviate suffering. Let’s renew our commitment to all teens, and endeavor to improve these numbers in the next survey. Relationships matter to teens, and we are in a unique position to improve adolescent mental health, one relationship at a time.