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A survey of Wisconsin high school students found that more young people suffer from depression and anxiety, while screen use continues to rise.
The survey results were released shortly after a statement from the US Surgeon General found that while social media has some benefits, “social media can also pose a risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. ”.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the summary report of its Youth Risk Behavior Survey on Wednesday, while some survey results were released in December. The survey included 90 questions asked more than 1,800 high school students at 43 public, charter and alternative schools across the state in the fall of 2021.
The survey found that more than 1 in 2 students reported having anxiety – a 12% increase from 2017. The survey found that 1 in 3 students reported depression. It also found that 1 in 5 students reported non-suicidal self-harm.
Jess Fraina DPI school mental health consultant, said these numbers are “alarming and glaring”.
“That’s something though, especially for those of us who work in schools or work in the mental health field, we’re not that surprised by it – these numbers have been trending that way for some time now,” Frain said.
dr. Jenny Walczakclinical director of mental and behavioral health at Children’s Wisconsin, also said the report did not surprise her.
“We know that there has been a mental health crisis for children for many years and therefore rates of depression rising, anxiety remaining the #1 mental health concern for children, is not surprising,” said Walczak.
Walczak said the pressure for young people to compete academically and socially, a lack of mental health resources, increased screen time and social media use, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to ongoing mental health concerns for young people across the state and nation.
Frain also said that the pandemic has disrupted students’ daily routines.
“Experiencing a pandemic will certainly exacerbate an already fragile situation for students,” said Frain.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether support for mental health services in schools will receive more state funding as the Republican-led budget committee cut 38 items from the Democratic government. Tony Evers‘ proposed education budget, including more than $276 million for mental health services in schools.
Screen use on the rise among young people
When it comes to screen usage, 3 out of 4 students reported three or more hours of leisure time in front of a TV, computer, smartphone or other electronic device every day. This does not count time spent using devices for school assignments.
More than half of students also reported using screens after midnight on at least one school night a week. The survey found that while screen use after midnight, which is likely not supervised by adults, is common for all groups, it is more common for students who identify as LGBTQ+, students with food insecurity, those who lived in four or more places, students of color, students with low grades, as well as depressed, anxious, and suicidal students. Students with high levels of adult support, high grades and high stability are less likely to use screens after midnight, according to research.
Walczak said that more screen use can expose children to information and content that is not appropriate for brain development.
“Kids are spending a lot of time on screens, on social media, which means it takes away personal time with families, with friends,” she said.
Less support, more challenges for various groups
Overall, the report found that there is less support and more challenge for various groups, including female students, students of color, students with physical or mental disabilities, students facing food insecurity, LGBTQ+ students, and students who have moved four or more times.
“A student who is not in any of these groups may still experience significant challenges and need additional support. On the other hand, a student who falls into one or more of the categories listed above can still thrive, especially in a supportive and receptive environment,” the report says.
Other findings from the report show a decrease in the consumption of traditional tobacco products but an increase in the use of electronics or vaping.
DPI says the report can be used by lawmakers and state advocates when creating policy on the issue. Frain said that going forward, DPI is focused on building a “more sustainable and comprehensive approach” to supporting students.
“We know that the majority of students who receive mental health support receive it at school, and so when we see this data, it’s really critical now that we’re investing in our schools,” she said.
State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly echoed these concerns.
“When I speak with parents, caregivers and educators across the state, the mental health of young people is the top concern, but it means something different when we hear it directly from children,” Underly said in a statement. “These data reveal the mental health crisis of young people in our state, and they don’t have enough access to support at school. That’s hard to hear, but it’s important information because we can do something about it – our legislative leaders can take action and budget significant funds to support mental health in our schools.”
What can parents do?
Walczak urged parents to see their child’s primary care physician if they notice any warning signs.
“If there are changes in your child’s behavior – your child’s sleeping, eating, they just seem weird – that will be a red flag for you as a parent who wants to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on,” Walczak said.
When it comes to depression, she said parents can look for changes in eating habits, sleep habits, mood, if they seem unhappy or if they are talking about feeling hopeless.
“There can really be a wide range of symptomatology for depression. It’s really that there are changes in the way your child is acting, and also those changes affect your functioning,” she said.
She also urged her parents to get engaged.
“Having these regular conversations about friendships, emotions, how they’re feeling, mental health, is extremely important,” she said.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also text HOPELINE to 741741 for free and confidential Crisis Textline.
Listen to WPR’s report here.
Survey of Wisconsin high school students reveals rise in depression, screen use was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.