CDC Releases Data on Youth Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week released new analyses exploring the mental health statuses of U.S. high school students during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to new data, in 2021, more than one-third (37 percent) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44 percent reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

The new CDC analyses also describe other challenges youth encountered during the pandemic:

  • More than half (55 percent) reported they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insulting, or putting down the student
  • 11 percent experienced physical abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including hitting, beating, kicking, or physically hurting the student
  • More than a quarter (29 percent) reported a parent or other adult in the home lost a job

Before the pandemic, the CDC notes, mental health was getting worse among high school students. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and female youth reported greater levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse by a parent or caregiver, and having attempted suicide than their counterparts. Over one-third (36 percent) of students indicated they experienced racism before or during the COVID-19 pandemic. The highest levels were reported among Asian students (64 percent) and Black students and students of multiple races (55 percent).

School connectedness, defined as a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging at school, had an important effect on students during a time of severe disruption. Youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness (35 percent vs. 53 percent); that they seriously considered attempting suicide (14 percent vs. 26 percent); or attempted suicide (6 percent vs. 12 percent). However, fewer than half (47 percent) of youth reported feeling close to people at school during the pandemic.

The CDC notes that youth with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, decision-making, and their health. Mental health problems in youth are also often associated with other health and behavioral risks such as increased risk of drug use, experiencing violence, and higher risks of sexual behaviors.

Additional information from the CDC is available here.