Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019

Dear Colleague,

October 23, 2020

Today, CDC released the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019pdf icon, which provides an in-depth look at trends in sexual behavior, high-risk substance use, experience of violence, and mental health and suicidal behaviors among high school students. Among other findings, this report, based on data from 2009 – 2019, reveals worsening mental health of U.S. high school students.

More than 1 in 3 high school students said they had experienced such persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year that they couldn’t participate in their regular activities, a 40% increase since 2009 (26% to 37%). There were substantial differences among groups of young people.  Almost half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Nearly 70% of students with same sex partners report these feelings.

There is also a concerning increase in suicidal behaviors. In 2019, approximately 1 in 6 students reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% increase since 2009.  Female students were more likely to report all suicide-related behaviors than males.  Black students were more likely to report being injured in a suicide attempt than white or Hispanic students. Again, sexual minority youth were at higher risk. Almost a quarter of students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (23%), 16% of those who said they were unsure of their sexual identity, and 30% of students who had same sex partners said they attempted suicide in the past year—far more than heterosexual students (6%).

Poor mental health in adolescence can impact many areas of life. Youth who experience poor mental health do worse academically and may experience physical health problems. These adolescents are also at greater risk for substance use, experiencing violence, and sexual behaviors that put them at risk for HIV, STDS, and unintended pregnancy.

Adolescence is a time for young people to have a healthy start in life. It is unacceptable that so many are suffering.

The data does reveal some good news. Fewer adolescents are sexually active or using illicit drugs, and fewer are reporting experiences of physical and sexual dating violence. Adolescents are resilient, and we know what works to help protect them from health risks and promote positive mental health: feeling connected.  School and family connectedness have been shown to promote positive mental health and reduce risk for violence, suicide, substance use, and sexual risk during adolescence and well into adulthood. Promoting connectedness is possible even in a virtual environment and we are so appreciative of all that schools are doing to support students wherever they are learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world what we already knew—schools play a crucial role in the health of students. In addition to academic learning, schools provide environments that can create a sense of safety and connection for all students and are an important source of services for students that need mental health support.

With the help of our partners, CDC helps schools build environments where youth feel cared for. From 2014 to 2018, CDC-funded school districts were successful in putting in place strategies like increasing the number of gay-straight alliances and providing skills development for educators on how to create safe and supportive environments. As a result, more students reported feeling safe in their schools.

Our youth and our schools need more support. For less than $10 per student, CDC-supported programs have been shown to improve school connectedness and other important health outcomes.  CDC has allocated CARES Act funds to help some school districts hire mental health staff and support non-government organizations to create tools that focus on mental health, parent support, and promoting school connectedness in response to recent long-term school closures.  One of the best investments we can make is in our youth.

We can work together to ensure adolescents are adapting and thriving during these changing times.

Sincerely,

/Kathleen Ethier/
Kathleen Ethier, PhD
Director
Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth

/Jonathan Mermin/
Jonathan H. Mermin, M.D., MPH
RADM and Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS
Director
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/nchhstp

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Page last reviewed: October 23, 2020