(CN) – While American high school students are less sexually active and are doing fewer illicit drugs, a growing number are feeling hopeless and reporting suicidal thoughts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of its National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the CDC asked 15,000 students about their sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, and mental health in 39 states.
While the report marked declines in sexual contact and use of drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin, 14 percent of teens reported misusing prescription drugs. However, this was the first time the CDC has asked high school students about that subject.
There is further cause for concern as more students reported feeling sadness and hopelessness than a decade earlier, increasing from 28.5 percent in 2007 to 31.5 percent in 2017.
In addition, a higher proportion of students said they had suicidal thoughts and had missed some school days because of bullying or fear of violence. Those results were more pronounced among gay, lesbian, bisexual students, or teenagers who are not sure of their sexual identity.
“The health of our youth reﬂects the nation’s wellbeing,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redﬁeld said in a statement. “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.”
The survey found a marked decline in high school students who self-reported that they had ever had sex, from 47.8 percent in 2007 to 39.5 percent in 2017. But fewer students who had had sex used condoms to help prevent transmission of HIV and STDs.
One in five students said they had been bullied at school, similar to 2009 levels. One in 10 female high school students said they had been physically forced to have sex, while one in 28 males said they had been sexually assaulted.
“Today’s youth are making better decisions about their health than just a decade ago,” CDC official Jonathan Mermin said. “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.”
One of the CDC’s notable findings from a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report also released on Thursday is that students are drinking less milk compared to earlier studies. For nearly two decades, almost half of high school students said they drank of a glass of milk a day. Now, less than a third do, according to the report.