Youth Mental Health Facts

Emotions are a basic part of the human experience—we’ve all got ’em—and many of us struggle with how to deal with them effectively.

This infographic from Mental Health America’s 2017 Back to School Toolkit provides some facts about youth emotions and mental health.

infographic displaying mental health facts about youth

Here’s a web-friendly version of the information from the graphic:

In the English language, there are more than 400 words for emotions. [1]

Studies show that men and women experience the same amount of emotion… but women tend to show it more. [2]

Of 11-17-year-olds who took MHA’s Youth Mental Health Test as of Fall 2017: [3]

  • 55% said they often felt irritable or angry
  • 68% said they often felt sad or unhappy
  • 69% said they often worry a lot
  • Yet 45% said they often do not show their feelings

Kids and teens are dealing with real problems and the complicated emotions that come with them.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health: [4]

  • 1% (2.2 million) of children have ever lived with a parent or guardian who died.
  • 7% (5 million) of children have very often felt that their family had a hard time covering the basics like food or housing.
  • 7% (7.7 million) of children have lived with someone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs.
  • 6% (6.1 million) of children have lived with someone who had a mental illness, was suicidal, or was severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks.
  • 1% (2.9 million) of children were treated unfairly because of their race or ethnic group.
  • 3% (5.2 million) of children have seen or heard a parent, guardian, or any other adult in their home slap, hit, kick, punch, or beat each other up.
  • 6% (6.2 million) of children have been the victim of violence or witnessed violence in their neighborhood.

And it doesn’t stop there…

  • In 2014, 13 percent of children, ages two through 17, experienced physical bullying, and 36 percent experienced teasing or emotional bullying. [5]
  • Nationwide, there are approximately 1.3 to 1.4 million child caregivers who are between the ages of 8 and 18. [6]
  • Of all youth (11-17) who took a mental health test through MHA, caregiver and LGBTQ youth had the highest rates of being at risk. 83.41% of caregiver youth scored at risk. 82.89% of LGBTQ youth scored at risk. (At risk is defined as scoring Moderate to Severe on scales, at risk, or positive for a condition.) [7]

Without healthy coping skills, the emotions that come along with what kids are facing can result in behavior problems.

  • 4.6% of children aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with either oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. Boys are 2x more likely as girls to be diagnosed with these conditions. [8]
  • On average, 11% of those who took the Youth Mental Health Test reported having conduct problems often. By the time parents noticed it enough to come take a test themselves, the percentage of conduct problems were higher: 23% of those who took the Parent Screen reported seeing conduct problems often. [9]

Misbehavior in schools is often addressed with disciplinary measures like suspension, expulsion, or even arrest.

  • 7 million students received in-school or out-of-school suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year. [10]
  • 3- and 4-year-olds are expelled from childcare centers at a rate 13x higher than K-12 aged youth. [11]
  • 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests in the 2011-2012 school year. [12]

But discipline like this often leaves kids and teens feeling isolated and labeled, further fueling the feelings that caused the misbehavior in the first place—and leading to poor outcomes down the road.

  • Of 11-17 year olds who took MHA’s Youth Mental Health Test, 48% said they often felt that they were “bad.” [13]
  • Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. [14]

It doesn’t have to be this way. By providing supportive environments and teaching kids and teens to recognize their emotions and address them in healthy ways, we can change lives.

  • School-age children whose mothers nurtured them in early childhood have larger hippocampi, a key structure in the brain important to learning, memory, and responding to stress. [15]
  • Students who have strong social and emotional skills have better physical and mental health, more employment opportunities, fewer relationship problems, and are less likely to abuse substances as adults. [16]
  • When schools have gay-straight alliances and policies against LGBT harassment, gay students have fewer suicidal thoughts and attempts. [17]
  • Restorative discipline practices show great promise, with some K-8 schools showing as high as a 67% reduction in suspensions over a multi-year period. [18]

Learn more about how you can help kids and teens develop healthy coping skills by visiting https://www.mhanational.org/back-school.

  1. Franklin, Deborah. “Emotions Outlast the Memories That Drive Them.” NPR. April 13, 2010. Accessed: June 10, 2012.
  2. MacDonald, Matthew. Your Brain: The Missing Manual. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2008.
  3. Proprietary data. MHAScreening.org
  4. National Survey of Children’s Health. NSCH 2011/12. Data query from the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health website. Retrieved [7/25/17] from http://www.childhealthdata.org.
  5. https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/bullying/
  6. American Association of Caregiving Youth. (2017).
  7. Proprietary data. MHAScreening.org
  8. Boat, T. F. (2015, October 28). Prevalence of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK332874/
  9. Proprietary data. MHAScreening.org
  10. US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2011-2012). [Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline)]
  11. Gilliam, W.S., 2005. Pre-kindergarteners left behind: Expulsion rates in state prekindergarten systems. Policy Brief series no. 3. New York, NY: Foundation for Child Development
  12. US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2011-2012). [Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline)]
  13. Proprietary data. MHAScreening.org
  14. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education, Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings (Dec. 10, 2014)
  15. Luby JL, Barch DM, Belden A, Gaffrey MS, Tillman R, Babb C, Nishino T, Suzuki H, Botteron KN. Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition, Jan. 30, 2012. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1118003109
  16. Jones, D., Crowley, D.M., and Greenberg, M.T. (2017, July). Improving Social Emotional Skills in Childhood Enhances Long-Term Well-Being and Economic Outcomes. Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2017/07/improving-social-emotional-skills-in-childhood-enhances-long-term-well-being.html
  17. Saewcy EM, Konishi C, Rose HA, Homma Y. School-based strategies to reduce suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and discrimination among sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents in Western Canada. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies 2014;1:89‒112.
  18. 2014. Improving School Climate: Evidence from Schools Implementing Restorative Practices. International Institute for Restorative Practices. Retrieved from https://www.iirp.edu/pdf/IIRP-Improving-School-Climate.pdf

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