SALT LAKE CITY — Mental health concerns are on the rise among Utah’s young people, according to the 2017 Utah Adolescent Health Report.
The report, which uses data from the School Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey project, indicates that feelings of hopelessness, instances of suicidal ideation and youth suicide attempts all increased in frequency between 2013-2017.
“Unfortunately, what stands out most in this report is that the measures we use to track adolescent mental health are all trending in the wrong direction,” said Michael Friedrichs, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.
Friedrichs said the alarming findings in youth mental health have sparked conversations among state officials about what to do with this year’s data, as well as how to collect information in the future.
“[We want] to try to understand how [depression] is related to cell phone use, to social media,” Friedrichs said. “We are implementing a module called the social isolation scale, that can help us identify which communities of kids are more isolated, and what may be risk and protective factors for isolation. We are adding questions on sexual identity and gender to see if that is related to this as well. Our job is to try to understand the situation better and to provide information.”
The SHARP survey also found that e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” rose from 5.8 percent of teens in 2013 to 11.1 percent in 2017. Cigarette use, on the other hand, decreased slightly from 3.9 percent to 2.9 percent.
Tanning bed use is also down. Binge drinking, marijuana use and prescription drug abuse rates did not change from 2013 to 2017.
Friedrichs noted the importance of surveys like SHARP in developing public health programming for Utah’s teens.
“These surveys are critical tools that help school administrators, teachers, and public health practitioners identify health and safety needs of Utah students and take steps toward protecting and improving adolescent health,” Friedrichs said. “Without this data, we wouldn’t be able to identify trends in risk behaviors or evaluate the success of programs that increase protective factors.”
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