Adolescent Mental Health Crisis: National State of Emergency Declared in 2021 Amid Rising Concerns and Calls for Action

Des Moines, Iowa – The United States is facing a growing crisis in adolescent mental health, with concerns rising among young individuals. A National State of Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health was declared in 2021, accompanied by advisories from the U.S. Surgeon General in the same year and also in 2023. This declaration comes at a time when many adolescents across the country are grappling with troubling experiences, a surge in youth drug overdose deaths, and an uptick in gun violence incidents. In 2021, statistics revealed that 42% of adolescents reported feelings of sadness and hopelessness, a significant increase from 28% in 2011, indicating potential signs of depressive disorder.

Recent data highlighted in the Teen National Health Interview Survey (NHIS-Teen) sheds light on the direct experiences of adolescents aged 12-17, offering valuable insights into the state of adolescent mental health. This survey data, collected over an 18 month period from 2021 to 2022, provides an updated analysis of adolescent mental health, the utilization of mental health services, and unmet needs, exploring variations across demographics such as sex and sexual identity. Supplementing this data are findings from other surveys like the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), offering a comprehensive view of the landscape of adolescent mental health.

Key findings from the recent data include a significant proportion of adolescents reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2021 and 2022, with disparities observed between female and LGBT+ adolescents compared to their peers. Drug overdose deaths among adolescents have more than doubled since 2018, with notable increases seen among Hispanic and Black adolescents. Suicide remains a major concern, with rates varying across demographic groups. Additionally, the data reveals trends in mental health therapy utilization and medication intake, highlighting the disparities in access and treatment.

Moreover, the correlation between substance use and mental health issues among adolescents is evident, with a substantial number of young individuals experiencing co-occurring conditions. The rise in drug overdose deaths, alongside fluctuations in substance use patterns over recent years, underscores the complex interplay between mental health and substance abuse among adolescents. Data also points to the disparities in mental health treatment access, with barriers like cost, stigma, and lack of awareness hindering adolescents, particularly among female and LGBT+ individuals.

Adolescents facing adverse experiences, including bullying, neighborhood violence, and emotional abuse, are at an increased risk of mental health challenges. The impact of gun violence on children and adolescents has also emerged as a concerning factor, potentially leading to negative mental health outcomes. Efforts to address youth mental health concerns are underway at the national level, with recommendations for screenings, enhanced social media safety protocols, and legislative measures to bolster mental health services in schools. Additionally, state and local initiatives aimed at improving access to mental health care among adolescents are being implemented.

The evolving landscape of adolescent mental health necessitates a multi-faceted approach, integrating resources, support systems, and interventions to effectively address the growing challenges faced by young individuals. The data presented offers valuable insights into the prevailing issues impacting adolescent mental health, emphasizing the critical need for continued efforts to enhance support mechanisms and foster well-being among the youth population.