Utah kids were more depressed last year — and more insights from new state youth report

The 2021 Utah Adolescent Health Report also found that children were more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than previously reported.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Registered nurse Yazmin Tovar gives a 16-year-old girl her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at the former Provo High School. 10 and 12 contracted COVID-19 in the past year at higher rates than previously reported, including depression and less frequent drug abuse, according to a new state report.

Editor’s Note • This article is about suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255. That crisis text line also offers free 24/7 support. Text HOME to 741741.

According to the 2021 Utah Adolescent Health Report, children in Utah have been more depressed over the past year.

They also contracted COVID-19 more frequently than previously reported, abused drugs less often and felt slightly safer in schools.

The report, issued every two years, is drawn from a random sample of students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

It is viewed as a critical tool to help Utah educators — and public health professionals — identify the needs of state students and take steps to protect them, said Michael Friedrichs, assistant state epidemiologist at the Department of Health and Humans Services.

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

COVID-19 and online learning

According to the report, 29% of the students surveyed have tested positive or had symptoms of COVID-19 in the past year.

That’s 3.7 times the previously reported positivity rate of 7.8% for their age group (as of May 31, 2021, around the time the polls closed). And for every positive test, there were potentially three additional COVID-19 cases, the report said.

According to the message:

• 91.5% of students reported having participated in online learning.

• 80.7% reported not staying focused while learning online.

• 39.4% reported difficulties using the schools’ online learning platforms.

About 32% of students also reported that they did not have a quiet place at home to do their homework.

And 36.7% said they felt anxious, sad or hopeless about COVID-19.

Mental concerns deepen

The number of Utah students in grades 8, 10 and 12 who reported feeling depressed in the past year increased, with 35.1% of students reported feeling generally sad or hopeless — up from 30.7% during the year 2019

“Adolescents with depression are at increased risk of a variety of other adverse health outcomes,” including substance abuse and suicide, the report said.

According to the report last year:

• 19% had seriously considered attempting suicide, up from 18.2% in 2019.

• 14.4% planned how they would attempt suicide, up from 13.6% in 2019.

• 7% made one or more suicide attempts, about the same percentage as in 2019.

• 18.6% reported self-injury – most commonly from cuts or burns – up from 16.2% in 2019.

• 27.2% experienced psychological distress, up from 21.5% in 2019.

• 24.5% felt isolated, up from 18.7% in 2019.

Drug abuse rates are improving

Drug and alcohol abuse among students in grades eight, ten and twelve has decreased in the past year. The same is true for smoking and vaping cigarettes, the results show.

At the time of the survey:

• 3.1% of students reported binge drinking in the past two weeks, up from 4.9% in 2019. (Binge drinking is defined as drinking four to five or more drinks on a single occasion.)

• 5.3% reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, up from 7.1% in 2019.

• 5.9% reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, up from 8.2% in 2019.

• 1.7% reported having abused prescription drugs in the past 30 days, up from 2.2% in 2019.

• 1% said they had smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days, up from 1.5% in 2019.

• 7.8% reported using vape products in the past 30 days, up from 12.4% in 2019.

Online bullying, dating violence rates are on the rise

Among the students surveyed, in-person bullying decreased over the past year, but online bullying increased, coinciding with the rise in online learning.

Overall, fewer students felt unsafe in schools, but more reported dating violence.

According to the report last year:

• 19.8% of students have been teased or bullied by another student on school premises, up from 23.8% in 2019.

• 27.2% were threatened or harassed over the internet, via email or by someone using a mobile phone, up from 22.1% in 2019.

• 8.8% said they felt unsafe at school, up from 10.9% in 2019.

• 11.% of those who did date said they had experienced violence on the date, including being hit, hit against something, or injured with an object or weapon – up from 9.9% in 2019.

The report also included information on asthma, diabetes and obesity rates; physical activity; automotive security and more. It is based on the results of two questionnaires – the Prevention Needs Analysis and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Parental consent is required for participation.

The Prevention Needs Analysis did not include students in private or alternative schools, early school leavers, or youth in correctional facilities and treatment centers. Students who did not return their consent forms were not represented, according to the report. Utah kids were more depressed last year — and more insights from new state youth report

Joel McCord

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