New concerning mental health data relating to American teenagers

A new concerning trend involves the mental health of teenagers across the United States.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 57 percent of teenage girls in 2021 reported persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness. In addition, 29 percent of high school-aged boys reported feeling this way.

"There’s been a noticeable increase in mostly anxiety and depression symptoms," said Dr. Biren Patel, a psychiatrist with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. "This can include anxiety, depression, stress, and a whole bunch of conditions that we’ve seen over the last 3 years."

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The CDC data shows more teenage girls reporting mental health concerns compared to teenage boys. However, some believe the numbers among boys may not be completely reflective of reality.

"Us boys, we tend to be portrayed as always having to be tough, keep a brave face, and never cry," said Travis Iheanacho. "I feel like we keep our emotions inside more than girls do."

"Prevalence is a little higher in teenage girls compared to teenage boys, but the symptoms can vary," said Dr. Patel. "Whenever there are symptoms of teenage boys, they can use a lot of externalization, or acting out.


According to the recently released CDC data, 22 percent of high school students in 2021 seriously considered attempting suicide. Among those, 12 percent of high school boys made actual suicide plans. Seven percent of high school boys attempted suicide.

"When you do have a teenage boy, you do want to look for behaviors like giving up family members, friends, activities, isolating more, decreased performance in school, or poor academic performance," said Dr. Patel. "Skipping school, as well as acting out behaviors. That can be more talking back, refusing to do things, or even just more acting out at home and in school."

"We have seen over the last couple of years, including a little bit before the pandemic, we were seeing an increase in trends relating to mental health," said Dr. Candice Castillo, Executive Officer of Student Support Services for Houston Independent School District. "Depression [and] substance abuse.  More and more our students don’t have the ability to implement the coping skills necessary."

Many experts link the COVID-19 pandemic to mental health issues.


"I think teens in general, as well as the rest of us, are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic," said Dr. Stuart Lustig, a child psychiatrist from Cigna Health Services. "There’s still a pandemic of mental illness as a result of pandemic stress.  It’s okay to not be okay.  But, that’s particularly challenging for teenagers who may have difficulty expressing themselves.  Boys in particular, who have been really socialized to kind of keep things in internally, not talk about issues and problems.  All of us have been impacted, I think boys in particular."

What are the warning signs of mental illness in children?

According to the Mayo Clinic, warning signs that your child may have a mental health disorder include:

  • Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
  • Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
  • Talking about death or suicide
  • Outbursts or extreme irritability
  • Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior or personality
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Loss of weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Avoiding or missing school

What should I do if I suspect my child has a mental health condition?

If you're concerned about your child's mental health, consult your child's healthcare provider. Describe the behaviors that concern you. Talk to your child's teacher, close friends, relatives or other caregivers to see if they've noticed changes in your child's behavior. Share this information with your child's healthcare provider.

For additional resources relating to the mental health of teens, click here.