Kids in southwest Ohio are struggling with their mental health, and area experts say the novel coronavirus pandemic spurred the problem.
Prevention First’s Student Survey of 26,260 seventh- through 12th-grade students in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties shows that more than half of them (53.3%) report having high levels of stress. One in 10 said they have suicide ideation. And 60% struggle to pull themselves out of a bad mood.
In addition: 38.8% responded that they felt nervous or anxious all or most of the time. Just over 24% responded feeling depressed, sad or hopeless most of the time and 29.2% said they desired to be alone all the time. There’s also an indication that kids surveyed need more adults they trust, outside of their parents, to help them with their moods.
These and other findings of the survey were reported Thursday morning by the area nonprofit Prevention First, which administered the survey from September to December 2021.
The organization, which provides evidence-based prevention strategies and action plans for youth in the region, does student surveys every two years. It released its report with the region’s nonprofit Interact for Health of Kenwood, which has supported the surveys since 2000 and provided $50,000 for this one.
Using data to support strategies that help children
“One of our first priorities is to share the data,” said Kate Schroder, president and CEO of Interact for Health. The nonprofit funds and supports work that focuses on better health outcomes for adults and children in a 20-county region. Schools, students and other community residents will have access to their data so that action can be taken.
The two agencies have been working to address the problems that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, their leaders said. And they said the new survey will help their agencies focus on ways to help kids.
The strategies may include additional teacher training and faith-based training for adults in how to address kids’ mental health issues, as well as expanded mental health services for kids at school-based health clinics, Schroder said. New messaging may include reduced screen time for kids or less video gaming, Prevention First President and CEO Nicole Schiesler said.
“We know that it is important for a young person to connect with adults in their life,” Schiesler said. “They’re less likely to (have) unhealthy behaviors when they have that connectedness.”
The agency leaders noted that mental health problems were noted across the country since the pandemic started in 2020. They aren’t likely to simply disappear as the pandemic lightens or ends, Schroder said. “These are behavioral changes that have really influenced our communities,” she said, adding that it is important to “look forward” and not just review what’s happened in the past.
Drug use drops, survey shows
Schiesler and Schroder said they were pleased to see that past-30-days drug use among kids dropped in the most recent survey.
The survey asks students which drugs they’ve used in the past 30 days to gauge what is being used and how often, so that again, strategies targeted to the prevention of use as well as reduction of use can be put in place, Schiesler said .
Students who use reported less drug use during the past 30 days than in the previous report. The report shows:
- 11.4% used alcohol.
- 11.2% used electronic vapor.
- 7.1% used marijuana.
- 2.5% cigarettes.
- 2% prescription drugs not prescribed to them.
And, the survey shows, less than 1% use illicit drugs such as heroin and meth. Schroder and Schiesler attributed some of the drop to lower outside-of-the-home access to drugs because kids were at home during the pandemic. They noted that most students who use drugs do so with friends – and they were apart from friends during the pandemic.
While Prevention First’s focus is on universal prevention, Schiesler said the agency will not take its eye off the “less than 560 students using illicit substances on a 30-day basis.” Schroder said that Interact for Health helps, by supporting harm reduction and health-based strategies for kids who use.
Schiesler also noted that one area of concern is a drop in the age that kids who use prescription drugs (not prescribed to them) reported when they started to use them. In the current survey, that average age was 11.9 years old. That was a year younger than the average starting age in the 2019-2020 survey.
The starting age of drug use has always been a factor of concern, Schiesler said. In relation to the regional prescription pill misuse, Prevention First recommends parents use lockboxes for their prescriptions and “get rid of unwanted medication” at drop boxes in their communities.
“Anything that is just unnecessary or unwanted, get rid of it,” she said. Prevention First provides bags for disposal.
Studies have also shown that drug use among teens is associated with greater drug involvement, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “It is important to note that most youth, however, do not progress to abusing other drugs,” the agency stated in the report, When and How Does Drug Abuse Start and Progress.
Youth mental health: A priority
Interact for Health is in a planning process for its top health priorities for the next five years. She said that the student survey data reinforces that youth mental health (which includes substance use and prevention of that) has to be addressed.
“Youth mental health continues to be one of the top health priorities from the community,” Schroder said. “That is coming through loud and clear to us.”
See the whole Student Survey at PreventionFirst.org.