CDC survey on youth mental health should be a wake-up call to parents, school administrators, expert says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Almost 60% of U.S. high school girls reported feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021, according to a newly-released survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 17,000 U.S. high school students were surveyed in class in fall 2021. In 30 years of collecting similar data, “we’ve never seen this kind of devastating, consistent findings,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of CDC’s adolescent and school health division.

“There’s no question young people are telling us they are in crisis. The data really call on us to act,” Ethier said. “The levels of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors reported by teenage girls are now higher than we have ever seen.”

The survey shows similar results to a youth risk behavior survey released last week by the Duval County school district, showing a rise in feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide among teenagers.

News4JAX on Tuesday spoke with a mental health expert who said the CDC report should be a wake-up call to parents and school administrators that teenagers are dealing with more outside influences than ever before.

“Well, it was very disheartening, of course, but I wasn’t surprised, I have to say,” said Lori Osachy of River Shores Counseling.

Osachy says she thinks social media is playing the biggest role in the increase of hopelessness among teens, especially young girls.

“Social media is increasingly violent towards women and girls and treats them like objects and forces them to compete in terms of very shallow characteristics, like how you look and what your body looks like,” Osachy said. “And it encourages our boys to treat them like objects, which is unfortunate.”

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals some improvement among teenagers in risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and bullying, but more students experienced suicidal thoughts and mental health episodes, according to the statistics.

The CDC study found that among girls, 30% said they seriously considered attempting suicide, double the rate among boys and up almost 60% from a decade ago.

According to the data, 42% of high school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped their usual activities as a result.

Mental health experts say it’s important for parents to pay close attention to their child’s moods, activities and friends, and understand that what may not be a big deal to parents could push an adolescent over the edge.

“I think we’ve just been under a lot of stress as a society the last several years, and our kids, their brains are not even developed yet, and so that emotional part of the brain is at the forefront. You know, that’s the one that’s more that’s the part that’s more active. The logic part of our brain has not developed yet. So it’s very easy to be more impulsive and to not realize that bad times do pass or that you can get help or this isn’t forever,” Osachy said. “Young people don’t have that ability yet as much as we do.”

Duval County, St. Johns County and Clay County schools all have dedicated resources for students in crisis, and they can also utilize the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which is manned 24 hours. Duval County school officials did not release statistics regarding the number of calls they receive, but the hotline is manned 24 hours a day and callers can remain anonymous.

  • DCPS Crisis Hotline: 904-390-2535
  • Clay County District Schools Youth Crisis Center: 904-725-6662
  • St. Johns County School District: Text CARE4U to 741741

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.