Current Teen Trends: Less Drugs and Sex, More Depression

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interviews several thousand students in its annual survey on teen behavior. The results were released this month. On the positive side, fewer high school students are having sex or abusing drugs. On the negative side, bullying is still a pervasive problem, and there has been an increase in the number of students reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

“Today’s youth are making better decisions about their health than just a decade ago,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, who directs CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “But, some experiences, such as physical and sexual violence, are outside their control and continue at painfully high levels. Their experiences today have powerful implications for their lives tomorrow.”

Highlights from the report are:

  • Sex. In 2017, just 39.5% of the teenagers surveyed said they had ever had sex, down from 47.8% in 2007 and 57% in 1988. Less than 10% have had four or more sexual partners.
  • Condoms. Unfortunately, barely over half of teenagers had used a condom the last time they had sex, which is down significantly from 61% a decade ago. Reduced condom use has resulted in an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. The CDC reports that half of the nearly 20 million new STDs reported each year are among young people aged 15-24.
  • Drugs. Only 14% of the students surveyed had used an illicit drug in 2017, a drop from 23% in 2007.
  • Bullying. The number of students who said they had been bullied stayed about the same — 19% in 2017, compared to 19.9% in 2009.
  • Depression. The number of teens who say they have had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness rose from 28.5% in 2007 to 31.5% in 2017. Hispanic students were more likely to report depression than other racial groups.
  • Suicide. More students confessed they had seriously considered suicide —17% in 2017 compared to 14.5% in 2007. Additionally, there was an increase in the number of students making suicide plans. “The percentage of female students who made a suicide plan increased significantly from 2007 (13.4 percent) through 2017 (17.1 percent).”


It is unclear why so many more students are feeling depressed and/or considering suicide. Another recent study from Cigna reported that young generations are the most lonely, so this might be having an impact on their mental health. Next week’s blog will discuss the Cigna report and how parents can help a teen who feels lonely. If you would like more information about how to recognize, prevent, or get help for depression and/or suicide, please read some of our previous blogs:

Symptoms of Depression

Preventing Adolescent Depression

Troubling Trend in Teen Suicide

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