Mental Health

Poor Mental Health Impacts Adolescent Well-being

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Key Takeaways

  • The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing.
  • Building strong bonds and connecting to youth can protect their mental health.
  • School staff and families can create protective relationships with students and help them grow into healthy adulthood.
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Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: An Action Guide for School Administrators and Leaders

Learn about school-based strategies and approaches to support student mental health.

Adolescent Mental Health Continues to Worsen

CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021 [PDF – 10 MB] highlights concerning trends about the mental health of U.S. high school students.

  • In 2021, more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health.
  • In 2021, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.

These data bring into focus the level of distress many students are experiencing.

YRBS-DSTR 2021 Graphic

Some groups are more affected than others.

Young diverse people having fun at LGBT pride parade

These feelings of distress were found to be more common among LGBQ+ students, female students, and students across racial and ethnic groups.

  • Nearly half (45%) of LGBQ+ students in 2021 seriously considered attempting suicide—far more than heterosexual students.
  • Black students were more likely to attempt suicide than students of other races and ethnicities.

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Why Is This a Big Deal?

Poor mental health in adolescence is more than feeling blue. It can impact many areas of a teen’s life.

Youth with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, decision making, and their health.

Mental health problems in youth often go hand-in-hand with other health and behavioral risks like increased risk of drug use, experiencing violence, and higher risk sexual behaviors that can lead to HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.

Because many health behaviors and habits are established in adolescence that will carry over into adult years, it is very important to help youth develop good mental health.

Need Support Now?

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The Good News

The good news is that teens are resilient, and we know what works to support their mental health: feeling connected to school and family.

  • Fortunately, the same prevention strategies that promote mental health—like helping students feel connected to school/family—help prevent a range of negative experiences, like drug use and violence.
  • Building strong bonds and relationships with adults and friends at school, at home and in the community provides youth with a sense of connectedness.
  • This feeling of connectedness is important and can protect adolescents from poor mental health, and other risks like drug use and violence.
  • Youth need to know someone cares about them. Connections can be made virtually or in person.

There is a Role for Everyone in Supporting Teen Mental Health

As we’ve learned nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are critical in our communities to supporting children and families. While the expectation is that schools provide education, they also provide opportunities for youth to engage in physical activity and academic, social, mental health, and physical health services, all of which can relieve stress and help protect against negative outcomes.

However, the pandemic disrupted many school-based services, increasing the burden on parents, increasing stress on families, and potentially affecting long-term health outcomes for parents and children alike, especially among families already at risk for negative health outcomes from social and environmental factors.

Young man wearing baseball jacket

Support is needed to mitigate these negative outcomes and lessen educational and health disparities.

Critical supports and services need to be comprehensive and community wide and should include:

What schools can do:

  • Implement strategies and approaches that can help prevent mental health problems and promote positive behavioral and mental health of students.
  • Help students cope with emergencies and their aftermath.
  • Provide safe and supportive environments—whether in person or virtually.
    • Linking students to mental health services.
    • Integrating social emotional learning.
    • Training staff.
    • Supporting staff mental health.
    • Reviewing discipline policies to ensure equity.
    • Building safe and supportive environments.

What parents and families can do:

  • Communicate openly and honestly, including about their values.
  • Supervise their adolescent to facilitate healthy decision-making.
  • Spend time with their adolescent enjoying shared activities.
  • Become engaged in school activities and help with homework.
  • Volunteer at their adolescent’s school.
  • Communicate regularly with teachers and administrators.

What healthcare providers can do:

  • Ask adolescents about family relationships and school experiences as a part of routine health screenings.
  • Encourage positive parenting practices.
  • Engage parents in discussions about how to connect with their adolescents, communicate effectively, and monitor activities and health behaviors.
  • Educate parents and youth about adolescent development and health risks.