Nearly three in five U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021—double that of boys, representing a nearly 60 percent increase and the highest level reported over the past decade, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While all teens reported increasing mental health challenges, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, girls fared worse than boys across nearly all measures. The new report also confirms ongoing and extreme distress among teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (LGBQ+).
“High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive,” Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., CDC’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science. “Proven school prevention programs can offer teens a vital lifeline in these growing waves of trauma.”
The analysis includes 2021 data and trends from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which examines health behaviors and experiences among U.S. high school students. Youth mental health has continued to worsen—with particularly stark increases in widespread reports of harmful experiences among teen girls:
- Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago.
- 1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year—up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.
- More than 1 in 10 (14%) had ever been forced to have sex—up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.
The report also found more than half (52%) of LGBQ+ students had recently experienced poor mental health and, concerningly, that more than 1 in 5 (22%) attempted suicide in the past year. Trend data are not available for students who identify as LGBQ+ due to changes in survey methods.
Findings by race and ethnicity also show high and worsening levels of persistent sadness or hopelessness across all racial and ethnic groups; and that reported suicide attempts increased among black youth and white youth.
The pressure felt by young girls today is unimaginable. It is not as things were years ago. It’s hard to say what the answers are. But be there. Lend a listening ear. It can make all the difference.