The latest Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey of sixth- through 12th-graders in the Tooele County School District brings encouraging news.
As reported in Thursday’s edition under the headline “Substance abuse by local teens still on decline,” the 2017 SHARP survey, which is conducted every two years by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, shows an overall continued drop of alcohol, tobacco and drug use by local students.
According to the survey, which was taken by more than 5,300 students in the school district last March, the percent of local students reporting the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs 30 days prior to taking the survey declined or stayed the same for all substances measured in comparison to 2015’s SHARP survey.
More specifically, alcohol use among local students 30 days prior to taking the survey, has plummeted since the first SHARP survey was done in 1997. That first year of the survey, 24 percent of local students said they had used alcohol. In 2015 that number was 7.8 percent and for this year it dropped to 5.3 percent.
For comparison, the reported use of alcohol by students statewide 30 days prior to taking the survey increased to 6.7 percent this year from 6.5 percent in 2015.
But more local students choosing to say no to alcohol, tobacco and drugs isn’t the only encouraging news. According to the survey, the rate of suicidality — the risk of a person dying by suicide — among students in the Tooele County School District has declined from two years ago.
Students who responded to the survey were asked, “During the past 12 months, did you every seriously consider attempting suicide?” and “During the past 12 months, how many times did you actually attempt suicide?” The number of students who reported they had attempted suicide in the last year dropped from 8.9 percent in 2015 to 7.8 percent this year.
While presenting the survey’s results to the Tooele County School Board last week, Julie Spindler, safe school coordinator for the school district, said, “We really are the superstar with all we have done in suicide prevention. If you go to any conference, they are talking about what Tooele County has done. From the school district, to Communities that Care, and Valley Behavioral Health, we have all collaborated and made it a mission to talk about suicide prevention among our youth and our adult population.”
Indeed, they have. Since 2014, when Tooele County experienced a regrettable cluster of teen and adult deaths by suicide, the school district, local clergy and a variety of agencies and services, quickly jumped in to educate the community about the problem and inspire change.
The effectiveness of those efforts, which are still ongoing today, may be hard to measure empirically. Yet, from a subjective viewpoint, all the public meetings, speakers, Question-Persuade-Refer trainings, and other purposeful suicide awareness and prevention initiatives, including the Life’s Worth Living Foundation, have made a vital difference.
It is our hope those efforts and initiatives continue successfully, and local suicidality numbers continue to decline. Furthermore, students in Tooele County are congratulated for the continued downward trend of alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse.