New Survey Finds 7 in 10 Teens Are Struggling with Mental Health

By National 4-H Council June 17, 2020

Amidst COVID-19 an overwhelming number report feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed as they call for more openness on mental health issues

CHEVY CHASE, MD (June 17, 2020) – A new survey commissioned by National 4‑H Council, and conducted by the Harris Poll, finds that 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. More than half of those surveyed shared that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, with 64 percent believing it will have a lasting impact on their mental health. The survey, conducted in May 2020, is among the first to examine the impact this unprecedented public health crisis has had on U.S. teens.

In 2019, the World Health Organization announced suicide as the third leading cause of death in teens 15 to 19. Their findings determined that the “consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.” Today, as the country grapples with a global pandemic, economic downturn, and recent conversations on racial injustice, teens are being met with added stressors and seeking out new ways to cope.

The survey, which polled over 1,500 youth between the ages of 13-19 nationwide, was commissioned by National 4‑H Council and conducted by The Harris Poll to gain a deeper understanding of the state of teen mental health and to gather youth perspectives on the issue as 4‑H aims to empower young people with the resources and support to address their health and well-being head on.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S.
  • 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress, and 43% depression
  • 71% of those surveyed say school work makes them feel anxious or depressed
  • 65% of those surveyed say uncertainty about the future makes them feel anxious or depressed
  • Teens report feeling more pressured to hide their feelings rather than do drugs
    • 67% feel pressure to keep feelings to themselves
    • 67% pretend to feel better to not worry anyone
    • 65% deal with my feelings on their own
  • Approximately 45% say that they try to ignore their feelings or spend more time alone when they are dealing with mental health issues
  • Teens today report spending 75% of their waking hours (approx. 9 hours each day) on screens during COVID-19
  • 46% of teens reported social media as their most common outlet for learning about coping mechanisms for mental health and 43% follow or support someone on social media who openly talks about their mental health issues
  • 82% of teens are calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country
  • 79% of teens surveyed wish there was an inclusive environment or safe space for people in school to talk about mental health. 70% wish their school taught them more about mental health and coping mechanisms

“Young people are facing a whole new world and set of challenges today and it’s our job to listen and respond,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of National 4‑H Council. “This survey provides a vital glimpse into the uncertainties many teens are feeling every day. In 4‑H, we aim to empower teens with resources and guidance enabling youth to tackle life’s challenges today and become leaders in their lives, careers and communities as they grow into responsible adulthood.”

More than half of the teens surveyed shared that they feel pressure to hide their feelings, and they want that to change. An overwhelming majority of teens are calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health and wish for schools to teach more on the issue.

“During these months of being away from my 4‑H club and friends, I’ve definitely felt disconnected,” said Micah Palacios, a 4‑H teen from Texas who developed a mental health program in her community. “Coronavirus has been overwhelming and being on social media can be too much for me at times. It’s been a lot to deal with. That said, my work on mental health awareness through 4‑H has given me tools to address these concerns in healthy ways for me and for others in my community. I hope to continue teaching and spreading mental health awareness so everyone can find productive ways to cope.”

With programs focused on issues such as substance abuse prevention and mental health, 4 H, powered by Cooperative Extension—a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation, aims to help young people build a firm foundation of social-emotional health. By understanding how to take care of their minds and inner being, 4‑H helps young people develop good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills which is key to holistic well-being.

About 4‑H

4‑H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4‑H programs empower nearly 6 million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4‑H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA, and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. The research-backed 4‑H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.

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