Fewer teens are smoking and drinking alcohol. That’s one of the bright spots from a recent survey of youth in Washington state. But the results also show that a large number of them are struggling with mental health issues.
According to the survey, about 8 percent of 8th and 10th graders attempted suicide in the past year. More than one in four teens said they felt so sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities. These numbers haven’t budged for several years.
Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky says many of the state’s prevention programs have seen deep cuts because of the economy. “School systems have gotten pressured for prevention programs the same way,” she says. “So really, as our economy comes back, I sure hope we can invest back into these prevention programs that really are important.”
Every two years the state surveys teens in more than 1,000 public schools across Washington. It gives policy makers a snapshot of what’s going on with kids. It looks at things like their physical activity, nutrition, smoking and alcohol use. The information helps lawmakers decide on priorities for what health issues to work on and fund.
But Selecky says the whole community also has a responsibility to be part of the prevention effort. For example, everyone can learn the warning signs of depression before symptoms turn into a crisis. “The thing about that is you got to have, whether it’s coaches, parents, teachers, and friends, they have to recognize something deeper is going on,” Selecky says. “It’s important to approach the young person and let them know you care and have them try to open up to you. So we have some work to do in that area for sure.”
The survey is a joint effort of five state agencies, including the Liquor Control Board and the Department of Social and Health Services.