US teen girls experiencing record-high levels of sadness, violence, and suicide risk, CDC says

FILE IMAGE - A freshman student unlocks her locker at a high school near Fort Collins, Colorado, on Aug. 17, 2021. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

New federal data shared by U.S. health officials details "record-high levels" of violence, sadness, and suicide risk among American teenage girls and those in the LGBTQ+ community, calling schools a "vital lifeline" to help struggling young people.

Data shared Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that nearly 3 in 5 U.S. teen girls — or 57% — felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. The figure represents double that of boys in the same age group and the highest level reported over the past decade, according to the agency.

"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 agency said in a statement.

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Overall, officials found that mental health among teens continued to worsen, with more than 40% of high school students feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks.

Among teen students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning, 52% had recently experienced poor mental health, and more than 1 in 5 (22%) had attempted suicide in the past year. 

"High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive," Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director for Program and Science, said in a statement. "Proven school prevention programs can offer teens a vital lifeline in these growing waves of trauma."

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The data from fall 2021 is based on results from the annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which examines health behaviors and experiences among high school students across the U.S. It also represents the first look at trends since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Particularly stark increases in harmful experiences among teen girls were highlighted throughout the report. Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls (30%) had seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago, according to the CDC. 

One in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year, which was up 20% since 2017. 

Nearly 15% said they had been forced to have sex at some point — up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure, the agency said.

Findings by race and ethnicity also showed high and worsening levels of persistent sadness or hopelessness across all groups. Reported suicide attempts increased among both Black and white youths, the CDC said.

More trend data for students who identify as LGBQ+ was not available due to changes in survey methods, the agency said.

The CDC said school-based activities can have a profound difference in teens’ lives "with a relatively small infusion of support to schools," noting how more than 95% of young Americans spend much of their daily lives at school.

"While their primary goal is academic learning, schools can take evidence-based steps to foster the knowledge, skills, and support needed to help prevent and reduce the negative impact of violence and other trauma and improve mental health," the CDC said. 

FILE IMAGE - A picture shows an empty corridor and student lockers of a school complex on March 8, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Kerem Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

FILE IMAGE - A picture shows an empty corridor and student lockers of a school complex on March 8, 2022, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Kerem Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The agency suggested that schools provide education that equips teens with understanding and ensuring true sexual consent, managing emotions, and asking for what they need. 

"Young people are experiencing a level of distress that calls on us to act with urgency and compassion," CDC Division of Adolescent and School Health Director Kathleen Ethier, Ph.D., said in a statement. "With the right programs and services in place, schools have the unique ability to help our youth flourish."

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If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line).

CLICK HERE for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.