A quarter of area students say they’ve felt “sad and hopeless” and 15 percent have thought about taking their own lives.
At the same time, alcohol use has fallen off among teenagers, which is good news — though after sixth grade, hardly anyone is eating healthy food.
These findings come from the latest work by Pride Surveys of Georgia, which reached out to 2,231 sixth-, eighth-, and 10th-graders at 13 Lorain County school districts, including those covered by our newspapers.
Conducted this past October and November and sponsored by Communities That Care of Lorain County, it’s the sixth survey since 2003 that has gauged how young people’s drug use, fitness, nutrition, and mental health patterns.
Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, presented the results June 21 to county commissioners.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE DECLINING
“Nine out of 10 adult addicts used before they turned 18,” Georgas said. “We need to find solutions and policies that lead to this community working together. It can’t all be put upon the school, the home, or the student.”
Survey results indicate alcohol use has continued a downward trend since an uptick among eighth- and 10th-graders in the early to mid-2000s.
Now, just under one in five 10th-graders admit to using alcohol in the past 30 days, a four percent drop in two years. Eighth grade numbers fell 4.5 percent and sixth grade dropped from 2.2 to 1.4 percent.
Georgas said 82 percent of students reported no alcohol use.
Reported use of marijuana within 30 days of the survey among 10th-graders stayed about even compared to 2014 at 13 percent. Eighth-graders dropped by more than half to 3.5 and sixth grade shrank from 1.5 to 0.3 percent.
Heroin use remained almost nonexistent among the students even as the opioid epidemic continues to grow in Ohio and across the country.
“People generally don’t turn to heroin until after age 18,” Georgas said. “We worded our questions about prescriptions as ‘something that wasn’t prescribed to you by a physician.’ We know there’s a big link between prescription drug misuse and the heroin epidemic as people get older.”
E-cigarettes were included in the survey for the first time and surpassed use of traditional tobacco products.
Four percent of eighth graders reported e-cigarette use while three percent said they’ve tried regular cigarettes. By 10th grade, usage was up around seven percent for both.
“Kids are trying e-cigarettes simply because they’re something new,” said Georgas. “They’re not using them as a replacement for smoking or to help stop smoking. It’s an untested, unregulated item.”
KIDS DEAL WITH DEPRESSION
Students who say they have experienced sadness and hopelessness has stayed even over the past two years — 23 percent for sixth grade, 21 percent for eighth, and 35.6 percent for 10th in the most recent survey.
A surprising number said they have seriously considered suicide with 8.6 percent admitting they’ve tried to take their own lives. Nine percent of sixth-graders said they’ve attempted suicide, rising to 10 percent by 10th grade.
“I don’t remember seeing so many depressed classmates as a teen,” said commissioner Matt Lundy after hearing those statistics. “Could these numbers be tied to social media or bullying?”
“These kids have a new world in how they communicate,” Georgas replied. “We used to use a telephone just to make phone calls but now they’re really living in that world. We’ve heard a lot of conversations about the Netflix movie ‘13 Reasons Why,’ which is about a girl who actually follows through with suicide.”
In 2014, 7.7 percent of sixth-graders, 14.7 percent of eight-graders, and 17.3 percent of tenth-graders said they’d seriously considered attempting suicide in the year leading up to being surveyed.
Now, sixth-grade numbers have nearly doubled in that regard at 13 percent. Eighth grade remained relatively even at 14.4 percent with 10th grade showing a slight increase to 18.3.
Georgas also said 22 percent of students reported an average of five hours or more per day spent on “screen time,” which can refer to social media, TV, and video games.
“For a kid who’s isolated and opens up Facebook, it can be really painful to see others on vacation and having the time of their lives with friends,” she said. “This isn’t school mandated time. What happens in this time period is vastly important to how they feel.”
FITNESS AND NUTRITION
Reported physical activity was largely consistent among the three age groups. However, daily positive nutrition habits showed a steep decline after sixth grade.
Sixth grade data said 35.7 percent are active one to four days a week and 57.8 percent five to seven days a week. Eighth grade came in at 37.4 and 56.3 percent while 10th grade registered 38.7 and 51.8 percent.
Just over 19 percent of sixth-graders said they consume fruits or vegetables at least four times a day but that rate dropped to 9.6 percent in eighth grade and 7.2 percent in 10th grade.
In 2014, students were only asked whether they were active during all seven days of the week, with 26.8 percent of sixth-graders, 30.1 percent of eighth-graders, and 24.6 percent of 10th-graders saying they were.
“We have to do something about eating habits,” Georgas said. “It’s much easier to make good decisions when you’re healthy and feeling good. Seeing that 55 percent of all students report being physically active for five or more days is very encouraging and it amazes me. These kids are really multi-tasking. There’s a lot going on with them. It’s very interesting when you put the puzzle all together.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.