Student health shows improvement in latest PreventionFirst! survey

“We know the pandemic presented unique and difficult challenges for youth,” Schielser said. “Mental well-being, academic success and interpersonal relationships were greatly impacted. The 2024 survey data is the first to demonstrate the resiliency of youth and the emerging impact of prevention and mental health programs.”

The data also identifies ways students are still struggling, she said.

“This is crucial in guiding our work and resources into programs and strategies that will continue to improve the health and wellness of our youth and continue to rescue substance abuse,” Schiesler said.

The conversations surrounding mental health and substance use go hand-in-hand, and these discussions are helping to normalize the talks, Schiesler and Godfrey said.

“The risk factors of substance use and the risk factors of mental health, they really just cross over, so, it’s really important for us to partner on these things and just continue to bring to the forefront of what our statement of need is,” Schiesler said.

Godfrey added, “I think the education and prevention efforts to combat stigma of mental illness has opened up that conversation for people.”

The survey addressed both substance abuse and mental health among more than 15,700 tri-state students, which includes Butler, Clermont and Hamilton counties in Ohio, from seventh-graders to high school seniors. They were surveyed from Sept. 1, 2023, until right before the end of the year in December 2023.

Key substance abuse results and trends included:

  • Most kids are not using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • In the 30 days before taking the survey, only 6.3% of kids said they used marijuana, which was nearly a percent down from the 2022 survey (7.1%).
  • In the past 30 days of the survey, 8.2% of the survey students vaped, which is 3% down from results in 2022 and 5.5% down from 2020.

“We know parental disapproval is one of the biggest protective factors contributing to less youth substance abuse,” Schiesler said. “When parents consistently express their disapproval of substance use, kids are listening and making better choices. These are difficult conversations to have with our kids, but they are important.”

On the mental health side of the survey, results and trends include:

  • Fewer kids say they experienced anxiety (35.6%) and depression (19.9%) in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. In the 2022 survey results, the feeling of anxiety was at 38.8% and depression was at 24.1%.
  • Nearly half (42%) of the students said they can pull themselves out of a bad mood.
  • Fewer students had suicide ideation (7.9%) which is a 3% drop from 2022, when the survey was conducted amid the COVID pandemic.

Kristina Latta-Landefeld, chief operating officer with Hamilton-based Envision Partnerships, an agency that supports lifelong learning in the prevention of substance abuse, violence, gambling and other high-risk behaviors, said the overall surprising piece, which she called “a good surprise,” is use across the board has gone down, and the mental health indicators seemed to have some improvements.

But vaping continues to be the most prominently used among the students surveyed, which overtook alcohol around the 2020 survey. The bigger issue with vaping is it’s unknown what’s in the vape device. Vapes can be used to deliver tobacco or nicotine products or CBD or some other cannabis product.

“I think that’s something that has to be weighed into the numbers, but no matter what, vaping is more widely used than alcohol,” Latta-Landefeld said.

She said even if the numbers are coming down, there’s a reason for that. Some of the reasons include access and perception of harm. Vaping (74.2%) is lower when it comes to perception of harm than alcohol (77.3%), according to the survey.

Though there is an improvement in key mental health indicators, Godfrey said there is a definite need for increased mental health treatment.

“There’s just a heightened awareness of mental health and mental wellness in the community. We’re focusing on getting mental health services into our schools,” she said.

“This is a student survey, so we’ve learned a lot from this survey, identifying and asking the right questions of these kids, hearing these voices. There will be a focus to get into these schools and really provide those services they need,” Godfrey said.

Students surveyed said there are adults in most aspects of their lives they can talk with about personal problems (from fears and anxiety to depression, bullying and self-harm). Most say it’s an adult in the home (56.4%), but a significant portion say there is an adult at their school. (31.6%) or outside of their home and school (36.9%). Most (62.5%) say they have at least one friend they can talk to about their problems.

With the results, Schiesler and Godfrey said there are a few action steps that will follow.

First, they will share the information. Results will be posted online and shared with stakeholders, schools and parents. They expect to have at least 75 presentations of the data.

Second, they will have continued advocacy by leveraging the data to expand and inform the investment in youth mental health and outreach services. A lot of this data will be used in grants for organizations seeking to garner resources in communities.

Lastly, the data will be used to help prioritize and expand services for youth and mental health, including through school-based health centers and community health improvement plans.

“One of our first goals as an organization is we pride ourselves on data-driven decision-making,” Schiesler said. “This is where our partners really come into play.”

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