Teens in Ottawa County continue to struggle with mental health issues, according to new data from the Youth Assessment Survey released Wednesday, April 27.
The Ottawa County AJS, which has been administered every two years since 2005, anonymously surveys grade 8, 10 and 12 students on a variety of health, wellness and safety issues.
Twelve school systems across the region participated in YAS 2021, which was administered in October. A total of 5,622 students participated, representing approximately 49 percent of all 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the county.
To view the full 2021 YAS results, visit ottawacountyyouth.org/2021yas.
Mental health struggles continue
The number of teens reporting feeling depressed and having had suicidal thoughts in the past year has not increased significantly in 2021, but the numbers are still high compared to past years.
In 2021, 31.4% of respondents said they had felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks” over the past 12 months. This is in line with 2019 figures, but up from 22.9% in 2011.
Just under 20% of students said they had seriously thought about attempting suicide in the past year, while 13.2% said they had planned to and 7.8% had attempted suicide. Ten years ago, these percentages were 13.9, 8.6 and 4.9 respectively.
“Youth mental health is definitely a concern,” said Leigh Moerdyke, YAS committee member and director of prevention and accuracy at Arbor Circle. “What we’ve done as a community is to raise awareness and remove the stigma so that young people are much more aware of their own mental health.”
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Moerdyke added that specific funding for mental health services and access to care remain barriers in the community, but surveys like the YAS help organizations apply for funds and develop services and resources.
New questions show correlations with mental health
New additions to YAS this year showed that certain groups of students were more likely to have mental health issues.
For the first time this year, students in schools that participated in the sexual activity portion of the YAS – 3,343 students – were asked about their sexual orientation. Those who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual had a higher proportion of depression and suicidal ideation.
Of those who identified as LGB, 63% said they felt sad or hopeless. Almost half, 48%, had seriously considered suicide and 22% said they had attempted suicide.
All students were asked about negative childhood experiences – ACE – which include physical, verbal and sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence and other childhood trauma.
The more a student had experienced ACE, the more likely they were to report mental health issues.
Students without ACE reported depression only 15% of the time. This number rose to 48% for students with up to three ACEs and 78% for those with four or more ACEs.
Substance use down in 2021
Fewer students reported recent drug and alcohol use in the 2021 survey.
In the 30 days prior to the YAS, 13% of students reported drinking alcohol, 11% using vaping products, 9% using marijuana, and only 2.1% smoking a cigarette.
Overall, 33.3% of teens have had a drink of alcohol in their lifetime, down from 39.8% in 2011. The percentage of teens using marijuana at any time fell to 17.5 %, compared to 23.8 ten years ago.
Moerdyke mentioned the Ottawa Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition as a community-wide initiative that has targeted education and resources at youth and their parents to help them in this area.
“We have spent a lot of time making sure education is available for our students and their parents,” she said. “We look at policies and procedures, how our systems work together to make sure young people have the best chance of avoiding addiction. »