The Pandemic Hit Teen Mental Health Particularly Hard

Nothing about these findings are surprising, but it’s possible some people will read into them more than what we can actually say from the data.

Tara Haelle
5 min readApr 1, 2022


Photo by Fernando @cferdophotography on Unsplash

Any parent, teacher, coach, or faith leader of adolescents didn’t need a study to tell them this, but it’s always nice to have data to back up what we’re seeing in our everyday lives: the COVID pandemic hit teens HARD. More than one in three high school students said they had poor mental health during the pandemic, and close to half (44%) felt consistently sad or hopeless during the past year.

The disease of COVID itself is less likely to cause severe complications, hospitalization, or death in teens, though plenty of previously healthy teens did die from COVID. But it was everything else about the pandemic that has had the biggest impact — the loneliness, the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty.

Again, none of this is news, but I worry that reporting on newly published data from the CDC will miss two key important points:

First, teens’ mental health was already in crisis well before the pandemic began, and not many folks were paying much attention to it until “kids’ mental health” suddenly became a talking point to push various agendas related to restrictions.

Second, while school connectedness definitely mitigated much of the pandemic’s mental health harm to kids, there were still kids who didn’t benefit from school or experienced more bullying, and it’s undoubtedly the case that teens would be struggling with the effects of the pandemic whether they were in school or not. In other words, school is a protective factor — which is why it was so important to keep schools safe with mask requirements, appropriate contact tracing, and improved ventilation — but it’s not a panacea.

Bleak Findings about Teen Mental Health

The new CDC findings come from an online survey conducted from January to June 2021 among 7,705 high school students who answered 110 questions about everything from accidental injury, self harm, bullying, violence, and suicidal thoughts to smoking, alcohol and drug use, sexual behaviors, and diet. The…



Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle is a science journalist, public speaker, and author of Vaccination Investigation and The Informed Parent. Follow her at @tarahaelle.