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North Carolina Teen Mental Health Improving

North Carolina teen mental health is improving.

After nearly a decade in which more high school and middle school students surveyed in the CDC’s biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported feeling sad or hopeless, both indicators have dropped. Fewer students reported those feelings in the 2023 survey.

In the previous survey, conducted in 2021, 43% of high school students and 35% of middle school students reported feeling sad or hopeless. In 2023, 39% of high school students and 32% of middle school students reported the same.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, remote schooling and health concerns combined have led to some of the worst levels of mental health among children ever recorded.

The percentage of high school students who have seriously considered suicide also decreased, from 22% in 2021 to 18% in 2023.

Experts like Tiffany Gladney of the nonprofit NC Child say it's a start.

“We celebrate the progress,” she said. “If there is just one less child thinking about suicide, that is a victory. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that no child is in crisis.”

There's no single reason for the improvement in teen mental health, but Les Spell, state coordinator for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, said the additional resources added to schools in recent years have helped.

“We've been fortunate to have significant federal funding that has allowed us to hire additional school counselors, school psychologists and social workers over the last two years. We have to believe that these things add up,” he said.

Spell said physical activity can also improve mental health.

In 2023, 42% of high school students reported engaging in physical activity for at least 60 minutes, five or more days a week. In 2021, only 34% of adolescents reported engaging in physical activity.

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If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, call or text 988 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Veterans can press “1” after dialing 988 to connect directly to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline. For texting, Veterans should continue to text the Veterans Crisis Lifeline short code: 838255.

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