On April 28th, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2021 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This survey is the largest public health surveillance system in the United States, monitoring a broad range of health-related behaviors among high school students. The 2021 surveys were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer insight into the impact of the pandemic on teens throughout the nation.
The survey results indicated worsening mental health for teens, and particularly for girls. While the number of male students who said they had considered, planned or attempted suicide was stable between 2019 and 2021, female students reported a sharp increase in all three, with 30 percent having seriously considered suicide in the last year, 24 percent having made a suicide plan, and 13.3 percent having attempted suicide.
The survey also found an increase in violence, as students reported higher rates of sexual violence and higher rates of having been forced into sex at some point in their life, with female students experiencing overall higher rates of interpersonal violence than their male counterparts. Researchers found that 1 in 5 students said they witnessed community violence, and 3.5 percent said they carried a gun.
For the first time, the CDC collected survey data about housing instability. They found that During 2021, 2.7% of U.S. high school students experienced unstable housing. Among racial and ethnic subgroups, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander youths were most likely to experience unstable housing, followed by American Indian or Alaska Native and Black youths. LGBTQ+ youths were more likely to experience unstable housing compared with their heterosexual peers. “Compared with students who were stably housed, students who were unstably housed were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, substance use, and suicide ideation and attempts, and to experience violence.”