Symptoms of poor mental health have fallen sharply among students at Fairfax County Public Schools, according to a county mental health survey.
Now in its 22nd year, more than 27,000 eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, as well as over 11,000 sixth graders, took the anonymous and voluntary Youth Survey that asks them about their mental health and about alcohol and substance abuse.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee meeting last month, Daryl Washington, executive director of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, said, “The good news [this year] is that there is a lot of good news in the mental health and substance use side of things.”
Among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, symptoms of depression fell from 38.1 percent in 2021, to 28.9 percent in 2022. Suicidal ideations likewise dropped from 16.5 percent in 2021 to 10.7 percent in 2022 — the lowest such number recorded since 2015.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey recorded an alarming spike in students experiencing symptoms of depression, thoughts of suicide, and a slight uptick in suicide attempts. Compared with data from 2021 where 6.3 percent of students said they considered taking their own lives in the last year, in 2022, that number fell to 4.1 percent.
“There’s obviously still work to be done there, but having those numbers dropping down from the 2021 numbers is a positive sign,” Washington said.
Although data from the annual survey was encouraging, Washington noted that several groups remain acutely at risk.
Particularly, students who identify as LGBTQ+ were significantly more likely to report feeling sad or hopeless in the last year, having suicidal ideations, and attempting suicide. Among non-binary students, 64.9 percent reported that they felt sad or hopeless in the last year, compared with 34 percent of female students and 21.1 percent of male students. Additionally, one in four students who reported substance abuse also considered suicide in the previous month.
But in a promising turn, substance abuse among Fairfax County students remains well below the national average, with just 7.5 percent reporting that they consumed alcohol in the last month, 5.4 percent used vapes, and 4 percent reported marijuana use. Nationally, 15.6 percent of students tried alcohol in the last month, 17 percent used vapes, and 12.3 percent consumed marijuana.
You can read the full survey online.
Feature image by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/stock.adobe.com
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