Over the holiday weekend, the Communities That Care Coalition released the results from their 20th annual survey of middle and high school students in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. Nearly 1600 students throughout 9 public school districts participated in the survey this past spring, adding to a wealth of information on substance use, mental health, and the rapidly changing landscape of pressures youth in the community are facing.
Encouragingly, drug and alcohol use among local youth has declined dramatically over the last two decades, falling to all-time lows in the height of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and remaining at-or-below pre-pandemic levels as in-person activities have largely resumed. Even vaping – which appeared suddenly in recent years and increased sharply to nearly a third of all students using vape products in 2018 – has since dropped to less than a fifth of students.
Cannabis use, however, has declined less than other substances, coinciding with students’ attitudes about its risks relaxing considerably. With a suite of major state policy changes since 2012 and a multi-billion-dollar commercial industry with highly-visible advertisement in its wake, students are acutely aware of new norms. “We do what adults do and what people who we think are responsible do”, said a local middle school student participating in a recent focus group on substance use. “If we think it’s cool or respectable, we want to replicate that behavior because that might make us cool or respectable.”
This year’s survey included an additional look at over 30 risk and protective factors that increase or decrease the chances of substance use, school dropout, teen pregnancy, violence, and mental health issues. These factors were last included in the survey back in 2018 – before the COVID-19 pandemic isolated youth and made them even more dependent on screens. Perhaps not surprisingly, overall protective factors have declined, a demonstration of just how much the pandemic continues to undermine young people’s systems of support.
Arguably the most palpable toll reflected in the data is on mental health. Indeed, symptoms of depression and anxiety among students had already been escalating since 2015, but have now skyrocketed to more than half of all students reportedly feeling sad or depressed most days, and two-thirds of students feeling anxious or worried most days. Further, relatively few students are feeling acknowledged for positive social interactions and achievements at home or in the community; and despite ample praise received at schools, students are feeling less committed than ever to their school.
There are many efforts underway in the community to support youth mental health, including expanded access to clinical therapies; LGBTQ+-affirming social groups; evidence-based social and emotional skill-building programs in local schools, arts programs, sports programs, peer-to-peer supports, and more. In the data release, the Coalition also underscored the importance of family attachment – a measure which the Student Health Survey data shows has improved considerably locally over the last 20 years. Contrary to what parents may think at times, the importance of young people feeling connected and supported at home cannot be understated, and is strongly correlated with improved mental health.
The Communities That Care Coalition developed this presentation for parents, families, youth, and people who work with youth. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to come give this presentation to families at your school or in a group you are a part of!
On June 9, 2022, the Communities That Care Coalition released a report, How Franklin County and North Quabbin Schools are Advancing Racial Justice. Leigh-Ellen Figueroa presented a slideshow summary at the Coalition’s Biannual Meeting at Greenfield High School. The report is based on interviews with 41 key school personnel from all nine local public school districts, including administrators, teachers, counselors, nurses, and students. The report identifies strengths, challenges, needs, recommendations, action steps, and resources.
Please contact Leigh-Ellen (LFigueroa “at” frcog.org) for more information.
For nearly two decades, the Communities that Care Coalition has coordinated an annual survey of Franklin County and North Quabbin’s 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Each year, The Coalition works with local schools to collect and provide valuable data on teen’s relationship with their school, their families, and substance use. With the tremendous changes of the past year, the 2021 survey was adapted to better reflect the questions raised about the impacts of COVID and quarantine on our youth.
The Coalition has just publicly released the first pass at the 2021 data, focused largely on mental health, the fastest growing problem identified in the survey.
Accelerated Release Plan
“Our data is always helpful, but this year’s data feels particularly actionable and time sensitive. We have school counselors with more and more students seeking help for mental health struggles. This data highlights the full scope of this crisis, confirming the toll COVID has taken on our youth,” said Sage Shea, who is one of the data analysts processing the results. “While results are anonymous, each school district receives a report on identified trends. In the past, we’ve sent survey results in the summer. This year, we’re releasing data in phases so the schools can act on it more quickly before students leave school for the summer.”
“The pandemic has amplified trends that we’ve been seeing for the past several years as young people have been spending more and more time online and alone and less and less time with peers,” said Kat Allen, the Coalition Coordinator. “This year of quarantine has taken that to an extreme.”
Student reports of symptoms of depression (measured by students answering that they were so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some of their usual activities) have been on the rise over the last decade. Teen mental health was already alarmingly high in 2019 when 32% of students reported symptoms of depression. This number took an unprecedented jump to 42% of students in 2021. Similar increases were seen in reported symptoms of anxiety with rates jumping from 33% in 2019 to a previously unimaginable 43% in 2021.
Longitudinal data trends for teen mental health.
When asked what they feel most worried about, students’ top three concerns were (1) climate change, (2) social justice issues, and (3) their appearance. Fears of personally getting sick from COVID ranked lower than the majority of other concerns.
In addition to high rates of loneliness and isolation, the survey examined poor mental health contributors like inadequate sleep (nearly half of students are sleeping 6 or fewer hours per night). Other contributors included tremendous screen time (more than half of students reported spending four or more hours per day in addition to the hours they already spend on their screen for school and school work), and school stress (not surprisingly, the vast majority of students found school to be more stressful and less enjoyable than it was before COVID).
All groups appear to be struggling, but who’s hurting the most?
Girls and Trans Students
Girls reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than boys (51% compared to 28%). Similar disparities were seen in rates of anxiety (56% and 26% respectively). Transgender and gender nonconforming students (who make up 4% of those surveyed) had even more alarming rates of mental health symptoms with 77% reporting symptoms of depression and 75% reporting symptoms of anxiety.
Queer and Questioning Students
Queer and questioning students (27% of the total sample) reported double the rates of symptoms of depression and anxiety than their straight peers (66% of queer and questioning students reported depression and 68% reported anxiety, compared to 33% of straight students).
Students of Color
Rates of depression and anxiety were also slightly elevated for students of color and for students from families with lower socio-economic status compared to their white and higher SES peers. When comparing mental health outcomes for specific racial and ethnic groups, Native American students (1.3% of the total sample) and multi-racial students (6.6% of the total sample) had particularly elevated rates of symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to their peers (50% of Native American students and 47% of multi-racial students reported symptoms of depression compared to 42% of white students; 50% of Native American students and 55% of multi-racial students reported symptoms of anxiety compared to 43% of white students).
“We know that even relatively small differences in mental health challenges between groups in adolescence can become exacerbated over time due to the unequal access to resources in our society. We also know those with more intersecting marginalization can be even more vulnerable,” said Shea.
One piece of surprising and somewhat positive news is that the survey did NOT show any change in the percentage of students who reported seriously considered suicide in the last year. That number remained constant at 17%. There remains, nonetheless, significant disparities between different identity groups – girls’ rates of suicidal ideation is twice that of boys (20% compared to 10%), and transgender or gender nonconforming students’ face higher rates still (46%). Queer and questioning students have more than triple the rate of suicidal ideation than their straight peers (33% vs. 10%). Students of color and students from families with lower SES have higher rates of suicidal ideation than their white and higher SES peers (20% vs. 15% in both cases). Again, Native American students were at the highest risk of any racial or ethnic group, with 35% of Native American students reporting suicidal ideation (compared to 16% of white students). Multiracial students also were at elevated risk (22%).
“The data really show how much our students are struggling, and how much we need to increase the mental health supports we have in place for students as we continue to transition to a new normal,” says Allen. “It is more important than ever to support our community counseling programs, to teach social and emotional skills to students of all ages, to help students build connections to their schools, their communities, and their families, and to work to dismantle the system of white supremacy which is at the root of these disparities.”
The Communities That Care Coalition has released the results of our 2021 Teen Health Survey.
More than 1,500 Franklin County and North Quabbin students from 9 school districts participated in the survey during February of this year, providing valuable insights into COVID-related health behaviors and concerns.
We are delighted to report that over the April vacation, 11 counselors from 6 school districts and Clinical and Support Options participated in a 3-day training in a PreVenture Program Facilitator Training. The PreVenture Program teaches cognitive-behavioral skills and motivational techniques to students in a small group setting, based on their personality type. The program has been shown to be highly effective in reducing mental health problems as well as drug and alcohol use.
The reviews of the program and the training were overwhelmingly positive, and local counselors are very excited to bring this program to their students!
Get your pocket-sized card here. It’s loaded with resources for jobs, health, housing, counseling, and more. These are valuable resources. We strongly recommend printing them and having them available in your home, school, town, community center, and more.
This report shares findings from meetings at all of the area districts, including information on local trends in school policies and practices, program highlights, current challenges, and ideas for next steps to enhance existing practices. It outlines how districts across Franklin County and the North Quabbin have created policies and practices that are in line with recent guidance from The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and that respond to the needs of their local communities. Local survey data is incorporated to provide further context.
In response to local interest, a special section on increasing equity in discipline includes research, best practices and local examples about how to respond to violations.
Throughout the report, clickable links to the Program Descriptions, an appendix and external websites provide an opportunity to learn more about specific programs.
Many thanks to everyone who met with us or provided information for this project!
The Partnership for Youth’s Mass Grad Coalition commissioned a reportto better understand why local young people drop out of school, and worked with local filmmaker Ali Pinschmidt to create a video-mediated dialogue between youth who had dropped out of school and school teachers, counselors and administrators. Ali produced a 35 minute film with excerpts from the dialogue as a tool to facilitate discussion about students dropping out of school in a rural community. A trailer is available here. To see the full video, click HERE and enter the password “Help2StayInSchool”.