States opt out of a federal program that monitors teen behavior as teens’ mental health worsens

As the covid-19 pandemic undermines mental health crisis among American youthA small group of states have quietly backed out of the nation’s largest public effort to track behavior involving high school students.

Colorado, Florida and Idaho will not participate in a significant part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reaching more than 80,000 students. For more than 30 years, state surveys, conducted anonymously in odd-numbered years, have helped shed light on mental health stressors and school safety risks. high school students.

Each state has its own reasons for choosing not to participate, but their withdrawal – as suicides and feelings of hopelessness are high – have attracted the attention of school psychologists and school administrators. federal and state health authorities.

Some of the questions in state surveys – which may also ask students about their sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual activity and drug use – conflict with legislation passed in conservative states. Some experts worry that intense political attention to teachers and school curricula has led to educators’ reluctance to include students in mental health and behavioral assessments. ordinary vi.

Reducing the number of states participating in the state CDC survey will make it harder for those states to track conditions and behaviors that indicate poor mental health, such as depression, drug abuse, and depression, experts say alcohol as well as suicidal thoughts.

Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s School and Adolescent Health Division, which oversees a series of health surveys called Youth Risk, said: “Having that kind of data allows us to say ‘ do this, don’t do that’ in ways that really matter. Behavioral monitoring system. “For any state that loses the ability to have that data and use that data to understand what’s going on with young people in their state is a huge loss.”

CDC developed the Youth Risk Behavior Monitoring System in 1990 to track the leading causes of death and injury in young people. It is made up of a nationally representative poll of students in grades 9 through 12 and separate state and local district-level questionnaires. The focus question about behaviors that lead to unintentional injury, violence, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, inactivity, etc.

Colorado, Florida, and Idaho’s decision not to participate in the state questionnaire will not affect the CDC’s national survey or the school district’s local survey in those states.

Part of what makes the survey such a powerful tool is the variety of information collected, said Norín Dollard, a senior analyst with the Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. . “It allows data to be analyzed by subgroups, including LGBTQ+ adolescents, so that the needs of these students, who are more at risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse than their peers age, is understood and can be supported by schools and community service providers,” said Dollard, who is also the director of Number of Florida Childrenpart of a national network of nonprofit programs focused on children in the United States.

Agency spokesman Paul Fulton said the CDC is still processing the 2021 data and has not released the results because of pandemic-related delays. But the trend from 2009 to 2019 national surveys showing the mental health of young people has gone bad in the previous decade.

“So we started planning,” Ethier said. “When a pandemic hits, we can say, ‘Here’s what you should be looking for.'”

Angela Mann, president of the Florida Association of School Psychologists, said the pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems faced by young people.

Almost half of the parents answered KFF/CNN mental health survey said the pandemic had had a negative impact on their children’s mental health. Most said they were worried that issues like self-harm and loneliness stemming from the pandemic could affect teenagers.

But the CDC survey was so flawed that health officials from several states withdrew the survey. For example, not all high schools are included. And the sample of students from each state is so small that some state officials say their schools receive little actionable data despite decades of participation.

Such is the case in Colorado, which has decided not to participate next year, according to Emily Fine, director of schools and youth surveys at the Colorado health department. Instead, she said, the state will focus on improving a separate study called Healthy Kids Colorado, which includes questions similar to those found in the CDC survey and questions specific to Colorado. . The Colorado survey, which has been in place for about a decade, includes about 100,000 students statewide — nearly 100 times the number that participated in the CDC’s state survey in 2019.

Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, also have their own youth surveys, either never taking part or deciding to skip the previous two CDC assessments. At least seven states will not participate in the 2023 state survey.

Fine said state-run option more profitable because the schools themselves receive the results.

In Leadville, a Colorado mountain town, a youth coalition used results from Colorado Healthy Children survey to conclude that the county has a higher than average rate of substance use. They also learned that Hispanic students in particular did not feel comfortable sharing serious issues like suicidal thoughts with adults, suggesting that opportunities to raise issues early were being missed. .

“I feel like most kids tell the truth in those surveys, so I feel it’s a trustworthy source,” said high school student Daisey Monge, a member of the youth union, said, has proposed a policy to train adults in the community to improve connections with young people.

Education officials in Florida and Idaho said they plan to collect more state-specific data using the newly created questionnaire. But neither state has designed a new survey, and what questions will be asked or what data will be collected remains unclear.

Cassandra Palelis, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in an email that Florida intends to assemble a “working group” to design its new system.

In recent years, Idaho officials have cited CDC survey data when they applied for and received $11 million. in subsidies for a new youth suicide prevention program called Idaho Lives Project. Data shows that the percentage of high school students who seriously consider suicide increased from 15% in 2011 to 22% in 2019.

“It’s worrisome,” said Eric Studebaker, director of student engagement and safety for the State Department of Education. Still, he said, the state is worried about spending class time surveying students and about crossing the line by asking unapproved questions.

Whatever the reason, youth mental health advocates call opting out short-sighted and potentially harmful as the exodus erodes national data collections. Epidemic exacerbate mental health stress open to all high school students, especially those who belong to racial or ethnic groups and who identify as LGBTQ+.

But since April, at least a dozen states proposed bills that reflect Parents’ Rights in Education Lawprohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Youth advocates like Mann, a psychologist in Florida, say the law, which critics call “Don’t Say Gay” and the intense political attention it focuses on teachers and School curricula are having a chilling effect on all age groups. “Some of the discussions about how schools teach children to teach have led to discussions about mental health services in schools,” she said.

Since the law was passed, a number of school administrators in Florida have removed the “safe space” sticker with a rainbow flag signifying support for LGBTQ+ students. Some teachers have resign in protest of the law, while others have expressed confusion about what they are allowed to discuss in class.

With data showing students need more mental health services, opting out of current state surveys could do more harm than good, said Franci Crepeau-Hobson, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado-Denver, who used national youth risk behavior data to analyze trends.

“It’s going to be more difficult to really process what’s happening across the country,” she said.

KHN Colorado reporter Rae Ellen Bichell contributed to this report.


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