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Survey: Substance abuse down, mental health concerns up among Utah youth

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | May 26, 2022

Steven Senne, Associated Press

In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.

Substance use has declined among Utah’s adolescents.

That’s the good news.

The bad news: Mental health concerns are increasing among those same groups from grades 6, 8, 10 and 12.

A report from a survey by the Prevention Needs Assessment and released by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and Utah State Board of Education shows the percentage of students feeling sad or hopeless has steadily increased since 2013. Female students reported more concerns that also included psychological distress, social isolation, self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Substance use, including binge drinking and use of alcohol and marijuana decreased in 2021, with a significant decrease in vaping since 2019. However, vaping products remain the most common source of nicotine addiction among Utah students.

The survey, conducted with parental consent, is one of two surveys included in the School Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey. Questions included those regarding bullying, motor vehicle safety, dating violence, COVID-19, substance abuse and physical well-being. According to the report, students’ lives and learning were profoundly impacted during the pandemic.

“These surveys are critical to help school administrators, teachers, and public health professionals identify health and safety needs of Utah students and take steps toward protecting and improving adolescent health,” said Michael Friedrichs, deputy state epidemiologist with the DHHS. “Without this data, we wouldn’t be able to identify trends in risk behaviors or evaluate the success of programs that increase protective factors.”

Other findings from the survey showed 57.9% of students regularly sat down for meals with their family. Only 16.8% of students met the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for physical activity that includes 60 minutes or more of daily exercise.

Only 66.5% of students admitted using seat belts and 53.9% reported they talked on the phone while driving. Nearly 37% of students said they text while driving.

When it came to COVID-19, 20% of students reported getting sick or having symptoms of the virus. This is more than three times the known positive rate for this age group, according to UHHS as of May 2021.

Nearly 92% of students said they participated in online learning during the 2020-2021 school year and 70.5% said they missed in-person school learning with other students during that time.

A copy of the full report can be found at https://bit.ly/3wQc1i7.

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