Last month we published a three-part series of stories on the 2019 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey that was conducted last March on 5,632 sixth- to 12th-grade students in the Tooele County School District.
SHARP collects data on substance use, antisocial behavior, community and school climate and safety, and social and emotional health. Done every two years, the survey is part of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’s statewide prevention needs assessment. Students’ answers are anonymous, and 39 school districts and 17 charter schools participate. Students require parental permission to participate.
The first story, published Dec. 17, reported that while tobacco use among local students continues to decline, vaping is on the rise, according to SHARP findings. Of local students who responded, 11th graders vaped the most in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, increasing from 13.7% in 2017 to 19.7% in 2019.
The second story, published Dec. 19, reported that according to SHARP, marijuana is now the preferred drug of choice by local students, with alcohol second. SHARP data shows that 6.6% of students surveyed said they had used marijuana 30 days prior to taking the survey while 5.6% had used alcohol.
Increased use of vaping and marijuana by local students doesn’t come as a big surprise to local educators and prevention specialists. Despite health alarms, vaping’s allure continues. The forthcoming use of medicinal marijuana in Utah, and nearby Colorado and Nevada allowing medicinal and recreational use, are perhaps creating a perception among local students that it’s more OK to use marijuana than before.
But what is surprising and alarming are SHARP’s data on the mental and emotional well-being of students, especially regarding suicide.
The third story, published Dec. 24, reported that 20% of local student respondents said they had seriously considered suicide, a 3% increase from 2017’s survey. Also, 62% of surveyed students said they are somewhat or very worried about the possibility of suicide by a student.
Furthermore, 19% said they felt left out often or always, and 18% said they felt isolated from others. Because a sense of belonging is important to human health, such numbers are troubling — and should be especially to parents. Understandably, based on local students’ responses, the survey claims 25% of them have a high need for mental health treatment and 25% have a moderate need.
Although the school district and overall community have made huge strides in recent years to raise suicide awareness and prevention, with positive results, evidently the pernicious root causes of depression and suicide ideation among local teens remain — and may be growing worse.
According to Julie Spindler, the school district’s at-risk coordinator, more students considering suicide in 2019 represents a “statistically significant change.” She noted with a mental health grant for students running out, the school district can use and will need an increase in mental health funding from the state.
The school district and community are urged to continue or increase efforts to provide mental health treatment for students in need. Parental involvement is crucial, too. Based on the latest SHARP survey results, that need may require a greater commitment of vigilance and action.