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FCPS mental health survey shows increase in depression and suicidal thoughts among teens

Guy in hoodie holds head in hands (via Christian Erfurt/Unsplash)

A new survey of Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) students shows local teens have been facing a decline in mental health over the last few years.

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

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

“In 2021, the rates of feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness among Fairfax County youth were highest in the past 10 years,” the report said.

FCPS is hardly alone in this: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report earlier this year reporting poor mental health among teens and children nationwide. While Fairfax County’s figures are high, they’re still below the national average.

FCPS versus national statistics on student mental health (via FCPS)

The report said that every measure of depression showed a marked increase over the past few years:

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

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

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

“One in four students (24.8%) reported having been bullied, taunted, ridiculed, or teased by a parent or other adult in their household in the past year,” the report said, “which increased from 22.9% in 2019, and is the highest in the past 6 years.”

Around 8% of students reported experiencing physical abuse at home.

Additional highlights from the report include:

  • The rates of reporting persistent feelings of sadness/hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts increased among Fairfax County youth this year, following the national trends.
  • More than 38% of the students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade reported feeling so sad or hopeless for 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 express high stress, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, consider attempting suicide and attempt suicide compared to male students.
  • Students of Hispanic ethnicity and students of other/multiple races were most likely to express feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, consider suicide and attempt suicide.
  • Students who identified themselves as transgender or gay/lesbian/bisexual reported higher rates of stress, feelings of sadness/hopelessness, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. The data shows that they also face greater challenges that can affect their mental health including emotional and physical abuse by a parent or adult, forced sexual intercourse and sexual harassment.
  • Students who reported a lack of food in their home were more likely to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than those from food-secure homes.

The full report is available online.

Photo via Christian Erfurt/Unsplash

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