Bi-yearly survey finds youth substance abuse, vaping decreasing

Oct 15, 2021, 4:22 PM
substance abuse...
FILE: School buses are parked outside of the Salt Lake City School District's Pupil Transportation building on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Photo credit: Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY  —  Results from the latest SHARP survey were released Friday, revealing how COVID-19 has impacted behaviors such as substance abuse in Utah students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. 

The Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey is given in the spring of odd-numbered years. It is designed to help Utah educators and other government agencies track youth trends. By doing so, they are able to assess adolescent behavior such as substance abuse and other risks youths face. They can then plan, implement and coordinate programs and services that can help.

Related: Nebo School District buses now have “Don’t Vape” messages

In a Zoom meeting, Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Jenny Johnson revealed that substance abuse is down among Utah youths.  UDOH’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program spokesman Ryan Bartlett said a sharp decrease among vaping teens is likely a result of health concerns making headlines a few years back.

“What we saw this year was a very sharp decrease in vaping. It was only a few years ago that then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams announced that vaping was an epidemic among the youth.  Current data shows this is a downward trend across the country,” said Bartlett.  In 2019, the U.S. issued a tobacco 21 law nationwide, which may also have been a factor in decreased vaping.

Related: FDA bans most e-cigarettes from the market, still considering Juul

Among those students surveyed, there were slight increases in thoughts about attempts of or planned suicides, although numbers of attempts were not up significantly.  Those at a higher risk for suicide consideration, according to survey results, include those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, not sure or other-than heterosexual respondents. 

“This is a trend that’s been going on for ten years that we’re seeing an increase in suicidal ideation or thoughts, planning or attempts,” according to Susannah Burt, prevention program administrator for Utah.  Burt said under the survey’s heading of  “have attempted suicide in the past 12 months” numbers have stayed relatively stable during a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: New card game designed to combat mental health symptoms in kids

When it comes to overall mental health, results show an upward trend of teens who were troubled or sad. But they did not reach out to anybody to talk even though they believed they needed mental help.  Breaking that down by race and ethnicity, Hispanic and Pacific Islander youth showed the biggest increases.  Burt said roughly a third of Hispanic and Pacific Islanders surveyed believed they needed some mental health treatment. However, increases were seen in ethnic groups across the spectrum.

Other trends include an increase in cyberbullying from all respondents, a six-fold increase within the past year. The survey shows those who experienced more cyberbullying , up to six times in the past year, were more likely to consider suicide during the past year.

Related: Cyber-bullying leaves a permanent footprint

Students are also getting less sleep.  According to the survey, 80 percent of 12th-graders are not getting eight hours of sleep.  Increased screen time might be to blame according to Burt. Survey results also reveal an increase in X-Box use vs. devices used for schoolwork.

On questions involving COVID-19, a third of respondents felt sad, anxious, or hopeless about coronavirus-related hardships. Those include loss of jobs or sick family members.

Burk says about 70,000 students responded to the survey; parental consent reached near 95 percent. 

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Bi-yearly survey finds youth substance abuse, vaping decreasing