More than a third of high school students surveyed in the United States experienced stress, anxiety or depression, and nearly a fifth said they seriously considered suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.
The first nationwide survey of its kind found that 44% of students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two consecutive weeks or more during the prior year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study.
“The findings we presented today highlight complex issues, however, and kids, parents and schools cannot address them alone. The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for many years with devastating consequences,” CDC official Jonathan Mermin told reporters in a news briefing.
The online survey of 7,705 students in grades 9-12 across the country was conducted during January to June 2021 and asked, “how often was your mental health not good?”
The survey found the prevalence of poor mental health and suicidality was high across students of all sexual identity, racial and ethnic groups, but was more prevalent among students who identified as female than males.
Suicidal thoughts or attempts and general poor mental health were also more prevalent among LGBT students than among heterosexual youth, the survey published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.
The study confirms concerns raised by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association, which in October 2021 jointly declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, noting that the stresses brought on by the pandemic have exacerbated issues that existed prior to the health crisis.
As schools were closed during pandemic lockdowns, teenagers were exposed to a variety of stresses, including abuse from parents and isolation.
More than half of the students surveyed said they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or other adult at home, with 11% reporting physical abuse. Nearly 30% reported that a parent or other adult in their homes lost a job and 24% said they went hungry because there was not enough food.
The study also found that perceived racism was highest among Asian students during the pandemic at 64%, followed by Black and multiracial students at about 55%.
The researchers noted an increase in racism during the pandemic, which began in China, particularly against Asian communities.
To address these mental health issues, researchers recommended improving student connectedness with other students as well as with staff, and noted that school districts should consider school-wide programs such as those focused on social and emotional learning.
Because the survey was the first of its kind, it was not possible to compare trends with those seen in other studies before the pandemic, researchers noted.