Good News and Bad News in the CDC Report

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on youth risk behavior surveillance in the United States on June 15, 2018. The data come from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), including a national school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). CDC and state/local education and health agencies jointly conducted the survey. The report brought us some good news and some bad news.

Good News

We found two encouraging pieces of information: First, most high school students cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults. Second, the overall prevalence of most health-risk behaviors has decreased. For instance, from 1993-2017, there was a significant decrease (11.8%—3.8%) in the overall prevalence of students bringing weapons into school property.

Bad News

The bad news is the significant increase (28.3%-31.5%) in the overall prevalence of students who reported having felt sad or hopeless during 1999-2017 period. Although the prevalence of having felt sad or hopeless decreased from 1999-2009 (28.3%-26.1%), it rose again from 2009-2017 (26.1%-31.5%). The prevalence of having seriously considered suicide increased from 2007 to 2017 (14.5%-17.2%). The prevalence of actually having a suicide plan increased from 2009 (10.9%) to 2017 (13.6%).

dot graph

Note: The dot graph was compiled based on the data in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report


An Ounce of Prevention

… is worth a pound of cure, so the saying goes. It is time for our education community to raise higher awareness of adolescent mental health and take effective measures to substantially reduce the incidence of adolescent depression and other mental health conditions. Research shows that only 50% of adolescents with depression are diagnosed. Major depression in adolescents is recognized as a serious psychiatric illness with extensive acute and chronic morbidity and mortality. Adolescent depression is also associated with adult anxiety and suicidality (Johnson et al., 2018). According to a recent systematic review on adult mental health outcomes of adolescent depression, adolescents with depression had almost three times higher risk of suffering from depression in adulthood than their peers without.

Evidence has shown that refining school-based prevention programs has the potential to reduce mental health burden and advance public health outcomes. However, according to studies on school-based depression and anxiety prevention programs for young people, programs targeting specific depressive symptoms seem more effective than those using universal or general methods to handle depression, and externally-delivered interventions seem superior to those delivered by school staff for depression (Werner-Seidler et al., 2017; Young et al., 2016). Therefore, we recommend school leaders to pay more attention to the following 2Ds:

  • Development of intervention programs for adolescents, particularly interventions that address key risk factors related to mental health, and
  • Delivery of such programs in schools where youth are most likely to receive services.