The FCPS Mental Health Survey shows an increase in depression and suicidal thoughts among teens

A hooded man holds his head in his hands (via Christian Erfurt/Unsplash)

A new survey of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students shows that local teenagers have faced a decline in mental health over the past few years.

The Fairfax County Youth Survey is an anonymous, voluntary survey of students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. The most recent survey, compiled from the 2021 school year, involved 33,479 students. There was no survey in 2020, making this the first look at student health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report said FCPS students were more depressed than at any other time in the last decade.

“In 2021, rates of feeling persistently sad or hopeless among Fairfax County youth were the highest in 10 years,” the report said.

FCPS is hardly alone in this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report earlier this year reporting poor mental health among teens and children across the country. While the numbers in Fairfax County are high, they are still below the national average.

FCPS vs. National Student Mental Health Statistics (via FCPS)

The report says that every measure of depression has shown significant increases over the past few years:

The greatest increase was in the percentage of students with persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Overall, nearly two-fifths of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (38.1%) reported feeling so sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row in the past year that they stopped perform some usual activities. More than 41% (41.6%) of 12th graders reported similar feelings, compared to 35.0% of 8th graders. Overall, the percentage of students reporting this level of sadness is about 8 percentage points higher than in 2019 (29.9%), reaching a 10-year high.

The report also found that female, Latino, and LGBTQ students, as well as students from food-insecure homes, were more likely to experience depression.

Students also reported an increase in bullying at home by parents or other adults.

“One in four students (24.8%) reported being bullied, teased, mocked or teased by a parent or other adult in their household in the past year,” the report said, “which was up from 22.9% in 2019 and is the highest for the last 6 years.”

About 8% of students reported experiencing physical violence at home.

Additional highlights from the report include:

  • Rates of reporting persistent feelings of sadness/hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts increased among Fairfax County youth this year, following national trends.
  • More than 38% of students in grades 8, 10, and 12 reported feeling so sad or hopeless two or more weeks in a row in the past year that they stopped doing some usual activities (persistently sad or hopeless). Approximately 17% reported suicidal thoughts and 6% reported suicide attempts.
  • Female students were more likely to report severe stress, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, to consider suicide, and to attempt suicide compared to male students.
  • Hispanic students and students of other/multiple races are most likely to express feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, to consider suicide, and to attempt suicide.
  • Students who identify as transgender or gay/lesbian/bisexual report higher levels of stress, feelings of sadness/hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. The data shows they also face greater challenges that can affect their mental health, including emotional and physical abuse by a parent or adult, coercive sex and sexual harassment.
  • Students who reported a lack of food at home were more likely to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts than those from homes where food was provided.

The full report is available online.

Photo via Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

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