More North Dakota youth are reporting extended feelings of depression, to the point of seriously considering attempting suicide, according to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The survey information, released Monday, Dec. 9, concerns North Dakota State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler.
“We recognize that behavioral health is a major factor in students’ ability to learn,” Baesler said. “We must continue to work to make sure that services are available to students and families who need them.”
There is a significant gap between the amount of resourwces available and resources needed, said Chris Potter, counselor for Richland 44 Public Schools. Efforts are a decade behind, there needs to be work in de-stigmatizing mental health issues and there’s the matter of having available state and federal funding.
“We’re no different than any other district,” Potter said. “One-fifth of kids have some sort of mental health issue that’s getting in the way of their learning. That’s just the one’s we know about. A lot’s going unreported. We’re running about close to the national average, and you can see that in Wyndmere, Wahpeton and Fargo.”
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given in the spring of odd-numbered years to students in grades 7-8 and 9-12. It was developed in 1990 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Different questions are asked of middle school and high school students,” the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction stated. “Students choose whether to take the survey and results are anonymous.”
According to the survey:
• 30.5 percent of respondents said they felt sad or hopeless daily for two straight weeks, up from 28.9 percent in 2017 and 22.9 percent in 2009
• 18.8 percent had seriously considered a suicide attempt, up from 16.7 percent in 2017 and 12.4 percent in 2009
• 15.3 percent had made a plan to commit suicide, up from 14.5 percent in 2017 and 10.5 percent in 2009
• 13 percent attempted suicide, down from 13.7 percent in 2017 but up from 5.7 percent in 2009
“We do continue to see a lot of children who feel hopeless,” Wahpeton High School Principal Ned Clooten said.
The 2019-2020 school year is the second for Wahpeton Public Schools’ “Sources of Strength” program. Created as a suicide-prevention initiative, Sources of Strength has evolved into a means to promote positive choices.
Wahpeton Public Schools is also utilizing the “Positive in the Present” program, which encourages youth to highlight and focus on aspects they can be thankful for.
Advancement is also occurring at Richland 44. It includes the school board’s recent vote to hire a full-time counselor for sixth grade students. The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale has become an effective tool in monitoring students’ well-being.
“Eight suicide screenings were conducted last year,” Potter said. “Half were for elementary students. This year, we’ve had three screenings of middle school and high school students.”
Survey results also indicate significant shifts in youth attitudes toward vaping and smoking:
• 52.8 percent of respondents said they’ve tried vaping, with 33.1 percent saying they’d vaped at least once in the 30 days before taking the survey
• The number who said they’ve tried smoking was not available; 8.3 percent said they’d smoked at least once in the 30 days before taking the survey
• 8.3 percent say they are daily vapers, up from 2.8 percent in 2017; 1.4 percent say they are daily smokers, down from 3 percent in 2017
“I’ll be real curious to see the local results, because our numbers may be higher than that,” Clooten said. “It’s been one of the hardest issues we’re facing.”
Citing factors including the size and vapor control mechanisms of vaping devices, Clooten said he agrees with the Food and Drug Administration’s classifying youth use as an epidemic. Potter, however, placed vaping use as a concern below the issues of mental health and driving behavior.
Fifty-three percent of 2019 survey participants say that have texted or emailed while driving. That’s an increase from 52.6 percent in 2017. That year, 6.5 percent of surveyed youth said they had recently drove after drinking. In 2019, the amount decreased to 5.5 percent. The trend also applies to whether or not youth ride with drivers who had been drinking. This year, 14.2 percent said they had been in that situation, down from 16.5 percent in 2017.
Reported incidents of bullying are also declining. In 2017, 24.3 percent of youth said they had been bullied on school property in the last 12 months. That’s down to 19.9 percent in 2019.
Nearly 33 percent of surveyed youth say they are slightly or very overweight. Nearly 45 percent say they are trying to lose weight. At the same time, more than 45 percent said they played a video game or used a computer for three or more hours on an average school day. Nearly 19 percent said they watched TV for three or more hours on an average school day.
In 2017, 18.8 percent of youth said they had been bullied on social media in the last 12 months. That’s down to 14.7 percent in 2019.
Survey results indicate decreased youth usage of alcohol, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine. There was a slight increase of youth who reported abusing prescription pain medication, from 14.4 percent in 2017 to 14.5 percent in 2019.
“This is a generation of youth and parents that’s known as the ‘safety generation,’” Potter said. “They’re considered risk-adverse and with a few exceptions, are making very good choices on the whole.”