MADISON, Wis. — Teens aren’t always happy to talk about their issues, but new state data offers insight into the mental health issues they face on a daily basis, making it clear they need help .
On Tuesday, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the results of their 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey detailing the significant emotional and mental health challenges high school students across the state face.
YRBS data showed nearly 20 percent of students surveyed had “seriously considered attempting suicide” in the past 12 months, the worst rates in the state since 2003. A third of respondents said they feeling sad or hopeless almost daily for more than two weeks. This marks an all-time high for young people with depression since the YRBS began in 1993.
“When I think about what is most striking about this data is that it gives me a tiny bit of hope and I know that sounds strange,” said DPI communications director Abigail Swetz. . “It gives me a tiny bit of hope because it’s so impactful that it will get enough attention for us to realize and come together and recognize that this is really a problem for our children.”
The data also showed higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality among women and students who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Young women were twice as likely as their male peers to consider suicide, and LGB students were four times more likely. In fact, according to the YRBS, one in four LGB students have actually attempted suicide.
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Additionally, while more than half of survey respondents reported “significant anxiety issues,” for LGB students, that number jumps to over 80%. Both data points mark a 3% increase from previous YRBS results in 2019.
“We have to be careful that for certain subgroups of our students, the world as a whole is not a very safe place,” Swetz said.
During a data briefing on Tuesday, Swetz and other experts noted that they could not attribute these troubling trends to a single issue, but they believe that current political events regarding abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic have all played a role.
Experts also said that the lack of access to adequate mental health care, due to understaffing, minimal space in mental health facilities and long waiting lists, means that the needs of young people are not satisfied.
That’s why Amanda Andersen of Miramont Behavioral Hospital said she’s started expanding her services to include adolescent care. On Monday, the hospital opened the doors of its new adolescent treatment unit to welcome its first patients aged 12 to 17.
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Andersen also said that as they and other health care providers with limited resources find themselves playing catch-up in trying to meet the mental health needs of young people, there are ways in which community members can help.
“What I see from a clinical perspective is the need in the community to really affirm what adolescents are going through and help them with their struggles,” she said. “Support from ‘I see you. I hear you. How can we help?'”
DPI leaders said that for LGB youth, support comes in the form of acceptance. They explained that even using student-requested preferred pronouns and nouns significantly reduced suicidal tendency.
DPI is currently working to increase its budget to have at least one dedicated youth mental health staff member for each district.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or considering suicide, resources are available to help you. Calling 988 nationwide will put you in touch with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. In Dane County, Journey Mental Health Center has a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline at 608-280-2600.
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