There is an ongoing rise in teenage mental health problems. While the COVID-19 pandemic has played a causal role in recent trends, mental health issues have been steadily increasing for years.
Between 2009 and 2019, the number of teenagers facing persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased 40 percent, according to historical data from the CDC. This figure increased another 20 percent when high school students were surveyed again in 2021, amid the pandemic. The rates of suicide, mental health-related ER visits, and therapy access among teens have also been rising in recent years—devastating the lives of many people and families.
Whether you are a parent of teenager, a clinician, or an educator seeking information, it is important for you to know and recognize the current, widespread issues affecting youth’s mental health. America is facing an ongoing mental health crisis, and young people are especially vulnerable. It is up to you to understand the potential signs and implications of mental health disorders among teenagers, as well as the necessary steps for helping someone you know and love.
New Teenage Mental Health Statistics
General Mental Health Statistics for Teenagers
As cited by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), teenagers are highly vulnerable to mental health problems during their adolescent years:
- An estimated 20% of teenagers – or 1 in 5 teens – have or will have a serious mental illness.
- 11% of youth live with a mood disorder like depression.
- 10% of youth live with a behavioral or conduct disorder.
- 8% of youth live with an anxiety disorder.
- About 50% of mental health disorders begin by age 14, and 75 percent begin by age 24.
- Over one-third of teens with mental health disorders drop out of high school.
- Among those between ages 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
Teen Mental Health Statistics During COVID-19 Pandemic
New data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), published in March 2022, show that the pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated mental health problems in teens. Below are some key statistics:
- More than 1 in 3 high school students (37%) experienced poor mental health during the pandemic.
- About 44% of students felt persistent sadness or hopelessness.
- 20% of students surveyed seriously considered suicide in the past year, while 9% attempted suicide.
- Notably, more than 25% of LGB students, and 17% of other or questioning students, attempted suicide during the past year compared to 5% of their heterosexual peers.
Rising Trends in Teenage Mental Health Problems
In their declaration of the current youth mental health crisis, Mental Health America (MHA) cites important statistics about the growing mental health concerns among adolescents today:
- The rate of depression in teens doubled between 2009 and 2019. Then, when comparing March to October 2020 versus the same period in 2019, the number of emergency room visits for mental health problems in teenagers increased over 30 percent.
- The MHA Online Screening program offers clinical mental health screenings. In 2020, close to one million youth took a screening, which is a 628% increase from 2019.
- Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, youth between the ages of 11 and 17 were found most likely (among all age groups) to display moderate-to-severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. Specifically, 84% of these adolescents scored for moderate-to-severe anxiety, while 91% scored for moderate-to-severe depression.
- Rates of suicide are also highest among this age group, according to the MHA Screening data. Specifically, in 2020, over half of 11 to 17 year-olds reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm nearly every day.
- LGTBQ+ youth are impacted most significantly. In 2019, about 50% of LGB teenagers seriously considered suicide, which at that time was more than three times the rate of heterosexual youth. However, in 2020, the rates of frequent suicidal ideation among LGBTQ+ youth increased to 62%. This means close to 2 out of 3 gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth considered suicide or self-harm in 2020 – totaling close to 60,000 youth.
Why is There a Rise in Mental Health Problems Among Teens?
The prevalence of mental health disorders among teenagers is not necessarily new. With most mental health disorders beginning during the adolescent years, there are common threads that tend to trigger the emergence of these issues. For example, teenagers are going through significant changes, biologically and socially. They feel an increased pressure to fit in with peers and establish independence. With this comes an increase in stress, substance use, issues with self-esteem, and behavioral problems. These can lead to the onset of mental health symptoms.
However, the question remains: Why are teenage mental health problems on the rise? What factors are causing these statistics to grow?
Let’s consider the pre-pandemic rise in teen mental health disorders first. There are various explanations for these statistics, such as:
- Mental health is becoming a more normalized and open conversation. Young people are more willing and more likely to discuss their mental health concerns than in years past. As a result, more people are opening up about their struggles and asking for help.
- Social media has become a dominant part of young people’s lives. Every day, teenagers are exposed to images of people with seemingly perfect lives or perfect appearances. There is a direct correlation between social media and mental health issues, as teens feel pressure to look or live a certain way.
- Teens are facing more academic pressure. With the competition increasing in schools and in the job market, more teenagers are feeling pressure to succeed academically and professionally. This can cause more stress – as well as substance use – than historical trends show.
- Substance abuse is common among teenagers. It is estimated that about two-thirds of high school students have drank alcohol and about half have used marijuana by 12th grade. Substance abuse is connected to mental health problems in youth. As the rates of substance use spike among young people, it is going to have an impact on their mental health.
- Macro stressors are concerning our youth. Today, youth are not just concerned with getting good grades or hanging out with friends. They are also concerned with larger, broader issues in their communities. Today, we are faced with disheartening issues of racism, inequality, gun violence, financial crises, and climate change. Youth are highly involved, trying to shape the world in which they will grow up and live in. This, in turn, puts new stress on teenagers and can cause issues with anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.
These above factors are only some examples of what’s contributing to the current mental health crisis. Of course, we cannot ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, either.
The pandemic turned many of our lives upside down, but specifically disrupted the experiences of teenagers in the United States. At a time when peer connection is most important, teenagers were separated from their friends and schoolmates. They were forced to stay home, attend classes virtually, and miss out on milestone social events. All the while, they were faced with economic hardships caused by the pandemic, fears and concerns of the virus, losses and grief for loved ones, and reduced access to healthcare. As stated by the CDC:
“For many youths during the pandemic, mental health was affected by school closures, social isolation, family economic hardship, fear of family loss or illness, and reduced access to health care because of inadequate insurance coverage or medical office closures and reduced hours.”
The CDC also reported new statistics regarding the hardships affecting teens:
- More than half (55%) of students experienced emotional abuse in their home during the pandemic.
- 11% experienced physical abuse by someone in the home during the same period.
- Almost 30% of teens reported that a parent or adult at home lost their job.
- Nearly one-quarter of teens (24%) experienced hunger during the pandemic.
- Two-thirds said they had difficulty with schoolwork since the pandemic began.
These hardships were coupled with the loss and illness caused by the COVID-19 spread. The virus impacted millions of lives, and recent data shows that more than 140,000 children in the U.S. experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic. Children of color have been disproportionately impacted.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics cites, “We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all of our futures. We cannot sit idly by. This is a national emergency, and the time for swift and deliberate action is now.”
What Can We Do to Help Teenagers Facing a Mental Health Problem?
If you are concerned for a student, a patient, or a loved one, do not hesitate to intervene. Mental health is an increasingly important topic to discuss with children, adolescents, and young adults. Too many of these young people are struggling silently and need our help.
Untreated mental health problems can lead to substance abuse and addiction, suicidal ideation and attempts, financial and social implications, behavioral or conduct issues, as well as worsened symptoms or development of a mental illness. Therefore, it is ever important to help your teenager as soon as you suspect a problem.
Even if you are unsure whether a mental health issue exists, do not hesitate to talk to your teenager. Open the conversation at home and let your teen know that you are there for them, always and without judgement. Ask questions and stay involved in your teenager’s life.
Finally, know where to turn for help, if and when it is needed. Professional support can make a world of difference when addressing mental health issues in teenagers. If you need guidance, or would like to enroll your teen in a substance use or mental health treatment program, you can always contact Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider for adolescents and young adults struggling with mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
Contact Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 or visit us online to learn about our programs.