Addressing the Teen Mental Health Crisis

Recent CDC report shows teenage health and wellness are on the decline and schools can play a key role in turning things around.

Group of excited students

A Worrying Trend in Adolescent

In February of 2023, the CDC released its 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and the results were concerning. Despite a few improvements, most indicators of adolescent health and well-being have been on the decline for the past decade. Of the 21 longitudinally tracked metrics, 14 have stalled or are moving in the wrong direction.


of adolescents were electronically bullied during the past year


of adolescents experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness


of adolescents seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year

Growing Disparity Across Student Groups

Findings are especially concerning for female students, who reported worse outcomes than their male peers in 21 of the 29 health indicators.

Female students were almost 2x more likely to experience cyberbullying, sexual violence, feelings of persistent sadness, or seriously consider suicide over their male counterparts.

“We can’t simply treat our way out of this youth mental health crisis. There are not enough providers [to address the scale of the need]… We need to be taking a public health approach with our young people. One of the most essential places to do that is in schools.”
Dr. Sharon Hoover
Principal Investigator and Director of the National Center for Safe Supportive Schools
student experiencing purpose

Connection in School as a Key Lever for Change

Research from the CDC and other sources indicates that school connectedness in adolescence is key in reducing emotional distress, suicidal ideation, physical violence, and many of the other indicators associated with negative short and long-term outcomes for teens.For students to build a strong foundation that nurtures a strong sense of self, reduces risky behaviors, and leads to academic success, they need support in developing three distinct types of connection:

Connection to Self: PurposeUnderstanding who they are and what they value
Connection to Peers: Belonging Nurturing comfort and safety amongst peers
Connection to Community: ImpactUsing gifts and strengths to have a positive impact on the world around them
Boy with textbook smiling

Recommendations for Building a Connected School Culture

Finding ways to increase school connectedness can have a tremendous impact on student outcomes both in and out of the classroom. While there are many ways to take on this challenge, best practices include:

Encouraging Agency + Develop Student Purpose
Fostering Belonging
Monitoring Student Needs
Making Time for Student Wellness
Nurturing  the Needs of Adults
For best practices, strategies, and models for building a more connected school culture, download our latest guide

About Wayfinder

Wayfinder provides educators with the tools to reinvigorate connection within the classroom. Designed at the Stanford, our program leverages the power of purpose, belonging, and SEL to help students and staff reconnect with themselves, their peers, and the broader community. We offer a range of tools that fits the needs of your school or district:

K-12 research-backed Core Curriculum
Activity Library with 1000+ relevant and engaging activities
Collections curated to address timely needs such as bullying, cybersafety, and financial literacy
Assessment Suite to track growth on skill development and wellness
Adult SEL to nurture the needs of your staff