RALEIGH — More than one in five North Carolina high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the latest biennial survey of student behavior.
Results from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey presented Wednesday to the State Board of Education showed increases in students reporting suicidal behaviors and feeling depressed. The survey results highlight concerns that mental health issues among young people are reaching crisis levels in North Carolina and nationally.
In December, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and UNC Health announced plans to expand facilities for children because of a “behavioral health tsunami.”
Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the survey results show the need for more school psychologists and social workers.
“We’re just barely at the tip of the iceberg of what the need is, which is why it’s so important to get these requests in and get them filled and get professionals hired and working with our teachers,” Davis said.
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Also on Wednesday, the state Department of Public Instruction announced that it was recently awarded $17 million in federal grants to help meet the mental health needs of students in 15 districts.
Intermittently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partners with states to conduct the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Participating states select random groups of students to answer the anonymous survey that covers areas such as suicide, bullying, tobacco and drug use.
The latest survey was given in fall 2021 after many high school students returned from receiving only limited amounts of in-person instruction during the previous school year due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about what’s really happening,” said Ellen Essick with the Department of Public Instruction.
Some of the most alarming North Carolina results came from questions about suicidal behavior. Among them:
• The percentage of high school students who seriously considered attempting suicide during the past 12 months rose from 19% in 2019 to 22% in 2021. It was at 16% in 2015 and 2017.
• The percentage of female high school students who seriously considered suicide rose from 23% in 2019 to 30% in 2021 — a number that’s doubled from 15% in 2011.
• The percentage of high school students who made a plan for a suicide attempt during the past 12 months rose from 15% in 2019 to 18% in 2021.
The survey also found LGBTQ students reporting higher rates of suicidal behavior compared to other groups. Additionally, concerns about safety and violence rose as well.
“It’s been a hard year for teachers, too,” Essick said. “A lot of people in schools doing a lot, and COVID didn’t just affect students. It affected their classroom teachers as well.”
The North Carolina results mirror similar concerns being seen nationally.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also consistently ranks in the top 10 causes of death for all adult Americans.
Nearly half of parents who responded to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN mental health survey said the pandemic had a negative impact on their child’s mental health.