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The CDC Says U.S. Teens Are Having Less Sex, Doing Fewer Drugs—But Feeling More Depressed

June 15, 2018, 6:54 PM UTC

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is out with an update on U.S. high school students’ health—and it’s a mixed bag. American teens are doing fewer drugs, but more say the feel depressed. High schoolers are also having less sex, but the ones who are less likely to use condoms than teenagers a decade ago.

Here’s a breakdown of the topline CDC numbers: Between 2007 and 2017, the percentage of surveyed high school students who said they had ever had sex sank from 47.8% to 39.5%, and the number saying they’d had four or more sexual partners dipped to an all-time low of 9.7%; illicit drug use fell to 14% from 22.6%. However, condom usage during sex fell to 53.8% last year compared to 61.5% in 2007, and the percentage of young Americans saying they “felt sad or hopeless” rose to 31.5%, a three point spike over the past ten years.

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The survey results prompted CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield to issue a somewhat hopeful, but overall sobering, assessment. “In the past decade, there have been substantial improvements in the behaviors that put students most at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. However, we can’t yet declare success when so many young people are getting HIV and STDs, and experiencing disturbingly high rates of substance use, violence, and suicide,” he said.

The suicidal ideation figures are especially troubling and add to a series of concerning reports about young Americans’ mental health. For instance, a study published in the journal Pediatrics last month found that the number of adolescents contemplating or attempting suicide rose sharply between 2008 and 2015.

The question is: Why? There aren’t many clear-cut answers to date, although a number of studies have suggested that the proliferation of cyber bullying and social media isn’t exactly a positive for teen mental health.