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Poor mental health lingers for adolescents, but positive school connections can help, CDC data shows

Nearly 20% of high school students considered suicide during the past year and 9% actually attempted it, underscoring the dire state of adolescent mental health during the pandemic, according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control.

The data is based on a nationwide survey of high school students from January to June 2021. More than 44% of students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Researchers cited numerous reasons, including school closures, isolation, family economic hardship and conflict, loss of loved ones to Covid and limited access to medical care because of insufficient insurance.

The study did note some bright spots. Students who had close ties, even virtually, to their peers or adults at school fared much better than those who didn’t. Students who felt connected to others at school had significantly lower rates of sadness and anxiety — 28% compared with 45% and were half as likely to have attempted suicide.

Researchers suggested that schools promote social-emotional learning programs, make discipline practices fairer among racial groups and improve teacher training in classroom management.

“Comprehensive strategies that improve connections with others at home, in the community, and at school might foster improved mental health among youths during and after the pandemic,” researchers wrote.

— Carolyn Jones