Mental health concerns increase while drug use decreases

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SALT LAKE CITY – A 2021 survey of tens of thousands of Utah students shows the impact of the pandemic on their lives, including an increase in mental health concerns but a decrease in substance use.

On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and the Utah State Board of Education released the Prevention Needs Assessment survey results.

The survey is given in the springtime during odd years to a random sample of students (with parental consent) in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12.

It asks about chronic health conditions, physical activity, safety issues, mental health, and substance use.

“These surveys are critical tools to help school administrators, teachers, and public health professionals identify health and safety needs of Utah students and take steps toward protecting and improving adolescent health,” said a prepared statement from deputy state epidemiologist Michael Friedrichs.

Friedrichs said the survey results help the health department identify trends in risky behaviors and determine if programs aimed at increasing safe behaviors are successful.

“In 2021, 35.1% of Utah students in grades 8, 10, and 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless, a significant increase from 2019 (30.7%),” according to a report.

The 2021 Utah Adolescent Health Report focuses on middle and high school students, so 6th graders were omitted. The analysis included 47,627 students from grades 8, 10, and 12.

“I’m concerned that they’re increasingly isolated,” Friedrichs said about Utah teens in an interview with KSL-TV. “We’ve seen an increase in poor mental health since 2013.”

Across the state, students in the Weber-Morgan and Salt Lake County health districts reported significantly higher percentages of feeling sad or hopeless than the state average, the report said.

In contrast, students in Utah, Davis, and Wasatch counties, along with the Central Utah Bear River health districts, reported significantly lower percentages of…