By David Bass
The first statewide survey of teen mental health since before the pandemic in 2019 paints a dire portrait. On a wide range of metrics, young people today report feeling worse off than their counterparts a decade ago, underscoring the impacts of the pandemic and shifting cultural winds.
The results are contained in the 2021 N.C. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a joint project between the N.C. Division of Public Instruction and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings were presented Dec. 12 during a meeting of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force.
The report is normally delivered in odd-numbered years during the spring, but it was delayed due to the pandemic.
Nearly one-in-four North Carolina high school students seriously contemplated suicide in 2021, according to the survey. That’s up from 16% of students in 2015. Nearly half of self-reported gay, lesbian, or bisexual students reported contemplating suicide, compared to 15% of self-reported heterosexual students. Females were more likely than males to contemplate suicide — 30% among the former and 14% among the latter.
Just 49% of high schoolers report feeling good about themselves in 2021 compared to 80% in 2011. Thirty-three percent report feeling alone in their life, an increase from 11% in 2011. Forty-three percent feel “sad or hopeless,” compared to 28% in 2011.
According to the new results, 30% of high school students said “it would take them less than an hour to get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent or other adult’s permission.”
One silver lining of the survey showed a decrease in bullying on school property. Fourteen percent of high school students said they were bullied on school property, compared to 21% in 2011. At the same time, physical dating violence increased from 9% to 13% during the same time period.
The survey included questions on non-controversial topics — such as nutrition and physical activity — but also touched on more hot-button issues, such as gender identity and transgenderism, alcohol and other drug use, and whether teens are engaging in heterosexual or gay sexual activity.
High school students were asked to report their sexual orientation, whether they have been forced to have sexual intercourse in the prior 12 months, how old they were when they first had sexual intercourse, and how many sexual partners they’ve had during their life.
The survey also queried students on their age when they first had more than a few sips of alcohol, how often they binge drink, and how often they use marijuana or other drugs.
Individuals in emotional distress or suicidal crisis can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone or text at 988. The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available for those in crisis.