CDC Reports Troubling Trends In Teen Mental Health

An extensive survey published by the CDC shows morose trends in teenagers declining mental health during the onset of the pandemic.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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We hear about the COVID pandemic’s ravaging effects all over the place. We hear about the countless lives it has claimed, or the polarization it has caused in politics. We also hear about the riveting toll the pandemic has had on mental health. But even as dire as reports have claimed it to be, the adverse effects on teenagers might be worse than experts originally thought. 

On March 31st, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released findings from an extensive survey of teenagers and how they have coped through the pandemic. Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s acting principal deputy director, spoke of the stark appraisal via NBC News. “These data echo a cry for help. The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental well being.” Similarly, Kathleen Ethier, the CDC’s director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health stated that the results of the survey emphasized “the degree to which families were experiencing stress” during the pandemic. 

The survey was conducted on 7,705 nationally representative high school teenagers. The students were asked to complete an Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey during the first half of 2021. The questions asked were in regards to their experiences from 2020, or the onset of the COVID pandemic.


As expected, the data within the surveys proved bleak, but the trends were considered to be startling according to experts. In general, 66% of teenagers found it difficult to complete schoolwork during the pandemic. Stress clearly played a huge role in this, and the results suggested that at-home stressors likely played into this. More than 1 in 10, or 11.3% of those students divulged that they suffered physical abuse while home, such as hitting, beating, or kicking.

The research findings continued to show alarming trends between teenagers and stress in home life during the pandemic. The survey also found that more than half, or 55%, say they were on the receiving end of cursing or other verbal insults from a caregiver in the home during lockdowns. Similarly, almost half, or 44%, of students said that they felt an ongoing sense of hopelessness, so much so that they were unable to participate in daily activities. Even worse, 20% also revealed that they thought about taking their own lives at some point during 2020.

Drugs and substance abuse among teenagers also seemed to show heightened effects during the outbreak of the pandemic. Nearly one-third of all participants admitted to experimenting with some type of drug, nicotine, and/or alcohol. Moreso, 1 in 3 reported that their substance intake increased during the pandemic. 


The survey’s directors stated that the tie between any roles the lockdown may have played on teenagers remains unclear. “There is no way to know specifically whether our findings reflect something new due to the pandemic or existing levels of abuse from prior to the pandemic,” said Ethier. One spokesperson, Ariana Hoet, suggested that stressed caregivers could have been a key factor in these findings. A tie is likely involved in the uptick of stressors, as recent reports suggest that stress levels among parents have been at some of the highest levels researchers have ever encountered. 

It may be impossible to ever concretely prove what has caused this increased stress in teenagers, but there is no denying that the pandemic weighed on the results. Politicians and educators across the nation see a need to address this issue. More social and emotional training and resources have been made available in public education on both the federal and state level. Whether these initiatives will make a lasting difference on these teenagers, however, is yet to be determined.