A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alarmingly illustrates the long-term mental health impacts COVID-19 is having on our nation’s youth.
According to the recently released data, in 2021:
- More than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless
- Nearly one-third of students experienced poor mental health
- More than 1 in 5 students seriously considered attempting suicide
- And 1 in 10 students attempted suicide
We also learned that some young people are struggling more than others:
- Nearly 3 in 5 teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021, with 1 in 3 girls reporting that they considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago
- Nearly 3 in 4 LGBQ+ students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, with almost half of LGBQ+ students seriously considered attempting suicide and nearly 1 in 4 attempting suicide;
- And suicide rates for young Black people age 10-24 increased significantly between 2018-2021.
These numbers sound alarm bells around the urgent need to address the mental health crisis among our youth and the ongoing disparities in care delivery. And they remind us of the severe consequences that come from sustained isolation and stress.
Reversing these trends will require ongoing national investments in mental health — including support for funding and policies that enable all schools to increase access to appropriate mental health services for students.
Here at NAMI, we are continuing to expand our resources for youth and communities of varied cultures and identities through initiatives like our new online Ending the Silence program for middle school and high school students, partnership with HBCUs and sororities across the country, equipping faith leaders with mental health resources, and more. We’ve even expaneded a new texting option to our NAMI Helpline in an effort to make young people more comfortable reaching out for help. It will take all of us working together across industries to create meaningful change.
What You Can Do
The antidote to loneliness and hopelessness is purpose and connection.
If you are wondering how to support young people right now, the most important thing is to be intentional about engaging with them authentically and providing them with spaces to show their true selves and talk about how they’re really doing.
Even though it may seem like a young person has a lot of friends on social media or elsewhere, many are feeling more isolated than ever right now, are struggling to keep up with a variety of pressures, and are still processing a lot of the collective traumas we’ve all experienced over the last few years. We can all play a role in providing young people with community and support by:
- Educating ourselves on the issues young people are facing
- Empowering young people, championing their voices, and truly listening to them
- Spending time with young people, checking in on them and connecting them to further support
- And advocating for more resources to increase early intervention through school systems and other places young people frequent
In a time where teenagers are facing record levels of sadness, we must meet them where they are to bring record levels of hope.
If you or someone you know are experiencing a substance use, suicide or mental health crisis, call or text 988 or chat at 988Lifeline.org.
Youth Mental Health Resources:
Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at various large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and of course playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.