Youth Mental Health


There is a growing mental health crisis among America’s youth. Data show that anxiety is commonly diagnosed in youth (8.5%), followed by behavior disorder (6.8%), and depression (3.8%). Approximately 1 in 6 youth reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% increase since 2009.

Youth with poor mental health are more at risk of social exclusion, discrimination, stigma, difficulty learning, and poor physical health. The gravest health threats to teenagers used to be binge drinking, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy, and smoking, but recent data reveal a new concern: sharp increases in mental health disorders. Data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that the percentage of youth between 12-17 years who reported experiencing a past-year major depressive episode (MDE) has doubled over the past decade.

Physical, emotional, and social conditions like exposure to poverty, abuse, or violence can increase adolescents’ vulnerability to mental health problems during a critical time, as they develop social and emotional habits that impact mental well-being, like healthy sleep habits, regular exercise, problem-solving and interpersonal skills, and managing emotions. Risk factors that increase youth stress include exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), social media influence and pressure to conform with peers and identity norms, severe socio economic problems, and health insurance status.

A landmark study of over 10,000 youth found that climate change, natural disasters, and lack of governmental action have had a devastating impact on the mental health of youth, including increased trauma, anxiety, depression, feelings of abandonment and suicidal ideation. More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.

School connectedness, opportunities for adult mentorship, and sense of belonging are important protective factors to poor mental health. School counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists are often the first to identify children who are sick, stressed, traumatized, acting out, or at risk of hurting themselves or others. While schools are ripe for integrating mental health treatment and prevention services, most states lack comprehensive policies and social-emotional learning opportunities. A widely-adopted strategy is school personnel intervention and provision of more funding for school counselors and social workers through expanding Medicaid to cover services outside of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In some cases, community based mental health providers deliver services in schools.

There are countless grassroots and community efforts to improve mental health including the 
Parent Support Network, which educates families and caregivers on how to support youth, AIM, which funds and implements evidence-based treatments while training adults in mental health first aid, Mental Health America, which advocated for helped to pass the first law in the nation requiring schools to teach students about mental health. Considering how mental health has continued to decline during COVID-19, more urgency is needed at all levels of government and institutions to enact policy changes and programs that promote mental well-being.

Youth who are of color, disabled, LGBTQ+, low-income, living in rural areas, in immigrant households, in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and/or unhoused are particularly vulnerable to poor mental health. Approximately 25.5% of American Indian or Alaskan Native youth, 11.8% of Black youth, and 8.9% of Hispanic youth reported attempting suicide in the past year, compared to only 7.9% of white youth.

This crisis was exacerbated by COVID-19, which increased isolation, potential for emotional abuse by parents or caregivers, and socioeconomic difficulty. In 2021, more than a third of high school students reported that they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44% of students reported that they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. Poor mental health increases risk of drug use, experiencing violence, high-risk sexual behavior, and difficulties with learning and decision-making.

Telemental health and school-based services are particularly effective in addressing inequities for students of color and should be funded accordingly. Every child should have access to high-quality, affordable, culturally competent mental health care, and efforts should be evaluated rigorously to address gaps in student access. Policies must address economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people.

Millions of youth are in schools with police, but without counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. This lack of school-based behavioral resources can lead to help requested from law enforcement, which can lead to overcriminalization and alienation of students, particularly those with disabilities and students of color. Legislation should support positive discipline practices like restorative justice, social-emotional learning programming, increased funding for mental health services, improved data collection, and prevention of guns on school property.

Youth leaders are powerful advocates for achieving policy changes and connecting peers with resources; additional investment in the training and education of youth leaders can help drive improvements in youth mental health. Many state-level Departments of Education are using COVID-19 recovery dollars to hire school counselors, social workers, and nurses, to implement meaningful summer learning and enrichment opportunities, to partner with community based organizations and Certified Community Based Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHCs), and to train youth peer leaders.

Resources & Tools


Staff Pick!
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Taking Action to End Gun Violence: Our Top Tools, Resources, Stories, and Data
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Brought to you by Community Commons
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Beyond Inclusion: Pronoun Use for Health and Well-Being
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
First page of Colorado SB 20-001: Expand Behavioral Health Training for K-12 Educators Health Note
Colorado SB 20-001: Expand Behavioral Health Training for K-12 Educators
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Health Impact Project
First page of
The Time to Act Is Now: Investing in LGBTQIA2S+ Student Mental Health in K-12 Schools With a Youth-Centered Approach
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Society for Public Health Education
Cover page of A Review of the Domains of Well-Being for Young People report
A Review of the Domains of Well-Being for Young People
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Urban Institute
PDF Cover: Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Protective and Therapeutic Potential of Nature
Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Protective and Therapeutic Potential of Nature
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Frontiers
Screen capture of Young People of Color Support Guide
Young People of Color Support Guide
Resource - Guide/handbook
PDF Cover: Implications of Internalised Ableism for the Health and Wellbeing of Disabled Young People
Implications of Internalised Ableism for the Health and Wellbeing of Disabled Young People
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Screen grab of Contagious Conversations: A CDC Foundation Podcast
Contagious Conversations: A CDC Foundation Podcast
Resource - Podcast
Brought to you by CDC Foundation
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Contagious Conversations
Resource - Podcast
Brought to you by CDC Foundation
First page of Colorado SB 20-014: Excused Absences in Public Schools for Behavioral Health Health Note
Colorado SB 20-014: Excused Absences in Public Schools for Behavioral Health
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Health Impact Project
PDF Cover: Roadmap for Resilience: The California Surgeon General’s Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences,  Toxic Stress, and Health
Roadmap for Resilience: The California Surgeon General’s Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences, Toxic Stress, and Health
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Office of the Surgeon General of the United States
PDF Cover: Autism Spectrum Disorders in Gender Dysphoric Children and Adolescents
Autism Spectrum Disorders in Gender Dysphoric Children and Adolescents
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Springer
Screen capture of Children - Healthy People 2030
Children - Healthy People 2030
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen shot of top of webpage: Firearms and Suicide Prevention
Firearms and Suicide Prevention
Resource - Website/webpage
Screenshot of The Role Youth and Young Adults Play in Mental Health Legislation
The Role Youth and Young Adults Play in Mental Health Legislation
Resource - Blog
Brought to you by Active Minds
Screen capture of adult hands holding child's hands holding a plant
The National Child Trauma Stress Network
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen capture of Why Strong Afterschool Programs Matter article
Why Strong Afterschool Programs Matter
Resource - Blog
Brought to you by WaPo
Seven Things You Should Know About Childhood Poverty
Story - Written
Brought to you by Community Commons
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Gun Violence Becomes Leading Cause of Death Among Us Youth, Data Shows
Story - Written
Brought to you by The Guardian
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Young Men of Color
Story - Written
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen capture of Mental Health Crisis Centers and EmPATH Units: Offering Care That Busy ERs Can’t article
Mental Health Crisis Centers and EmPATH Units: Offering Care That Busy ERs Can’t
Story - Written
Brought to you by STAT
Published on 04/26/2024
Photo of young Black child with short hair sitting on the ground with their head in their hands.
Race-Based Stress and Intergenerational Trauma
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 09/16/2022
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Racism Has Youths of Color Seriously Stressed Out
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 03/09/2017
Screen capture of The Story of FYRE Youth Center video
The Story of FYRE Youth Center
Story - Video
Brought to you by YouTube
Published on 05/03/2023
Students standing around therapy dog
The Student Stress Crisis: What is Portland State Doing to Make a Difference?
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Close-up photo of a person's hands holding a cell phone.
Telemental Health Provides Opportunity to Improve Population Mental Health
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen capture of When the Biggest Student Mental Health Advocates Are the Students article
When the Biggest Student Mental Health Advocates Are the Students
Story - Written
Brought to you by NYT
Published on 02/06/2024
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Adverse Childhood Experiences – Trauma in Children Across the Nation
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 12/19/2017
Photo of an unhappy young boy looking at a laptop. On the right, emojis and random text are floating in the air.
Youth, Young Adults, and Digital Abuse
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons

Data & Metrics


 Related Topics


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Adverse Childhood Experiences

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School-based Health Centers

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LGBTQ+ Youth

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Positive Youth Development

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Mental and Behavioral Health

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Children and Youth

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Eating Disorders