The Mental Health Crisis Among American Youth

Understanding the pandemic’s role in an ongoing decline in the emotional well-being of U.S. children and young adults

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, many countries—including the United States—are experiencing a surge in mental health issues, especially among vulnerable populations.1

While children and young adults are less likely to become severely ill or die from the disease, their lives have been turned upside down by other effects of the pandemic, such as shuttered schools; increased economic insecurity; and increased family distress, including deaths of parents and other family members.2 These stresses have further exacerbated a youth mental health crisis in the United States that was apparent even before the pandemic.3

The following PRB resources shine a light on the mental health issues facing American youth, illuminating statistics, contributing factors, effects, and possible policy solutions for a looming national emergency.


Sociologist Richard G. Rogers and coauthors examine why Americans ages 15 to 24 are twice as likely to die as their peers in other wealthy nations and recommend policy changes, including improving treatment for and prevention of mental illness and substance abuse among youth.

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Beth Jarosz, PRB program director and expert in child well-being, discusses the pandemic’s potential long-term impacts on American livelihood, with particular attention to the effects on infants, children, and young adults.


For 18 years, the KidsData program has gathered and analyzed data on the health and well-being of children in California, home to more people under age 18 than any other U.S. state. Here, KidsData explores results from the national questionnaire Family Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Teen boy puts head in hand as mother lectures

From KidsData: The pandemic's effects on young people are of particular concern, as adverse childhood experiences (especially in early childhood) can have negative, long-term impacts on health and well-being.

Mother playing with her children at home

From KidsData: Reports from caregivers provide mounting evidence that they are highly concerned for their children’s well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for intervention may be great.

Young students running up stairs at the school

From KidsData: The suicide rate for youth in California and the United States was increasing even before COVID-19 entered the picture in 2020, and the pandemic’s extended social isolation and other stressors have presented newly compounding risk factors for suicide.

Doctor visits patient in hospital ward

From KidsData: Positive emotional health is critical to equipping young people for the challenges of growing up and living as healthy adults, yet the pandemic led to many new stressors for children, including disruptions and socioeconomic shifts.

Shadow of a girl with a bag

From KidsData: Youth who feel more connected to school are more likely to have a stronger sense of well-being. Data on suicidal ideation among California students before the COVID-19 pandemic suggest a relationship to school connectedness.

Group of Students with Backpacks Walking to School

From KidsData: Children often rely on schools to provide mental health services, but school closures during the pandemic made it difficult to access and preserve the quality of these services. Current analyses on the impact of COVID-19 can help inform best practices for promoting resilience.


[1] World Health Organization, “COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers 25% Increase in Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Worldwide,” March 2, 2022.

[2] Harvard Health Publishing, “Coronavirus Outbreak and Kids: Advice on Playdates, Social Distancing, and Healthy Behaviors to Help Prevent Infection,” May 20, 2022.

[3] Matt Richtel, “Surgeon General Warns of Youth Mental Health Crisis,” The New York Times, Dec. 7, 2021; and Children’s Hospital Association, “Sound the Alarm for Kids Raises Awareness of National Mental Health Emergency,” Nov. 2, 2021.