State survey finds high rate of kids at risk of self-harm
(Calif.) One in every five students in grades nine and 11 seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the results of the latest California Healthy Kids Survey. While disturbing, that number is not all that surprising, experts say.
Students who are ages 13-17 experience many life changes as they begin to transition into adulthood, but factors, including biological predisposition, exposure to trauma or abuse and neglect, substance use, sexual orientation, bullying, or chronic medical conditions, can often add additional stress.
“Unfortunately, many young people do contemplate ending their lives, and these numbers appear to be consistent with this hard reality,” said Danielle Forshee, clinical consultant to the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. “A majority of this age range appears to suffer in silence, and depending on their age, are not developmentally equipped [with] the problem-solving skills to be able to know how to ask for help. And for those who are equipped, a sense of shame and embarrassment may take over, rendering the youngster to feel even more isolated and alone, perpetuating the cycle.”
The California Healthy Kids Survey provides schools with data on risky student behavior typically regarding drug use, alcohol consumption, sexual activity and other factors that may help officials assess or direct resources toward campus safety, social and emotional health, and school climate.
The results of the most recent survey—released Monday—show that binge drinking, use of alcohol and marijuana, fights on campus, and the number of weapons on campus have all decreased in recent years.
Marring what would otherwise be positive results overall is the fact that 19 percent of both ninth- and 11th-grade students seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year. Girls’ emotional well-being, especially, appears to have worsened since the last survey was distributed.
In the 2011-13 survey, almost 39 percent of girls in ninth grade reported chronic sad or hopeless feelings. That number increased to more than 42 percent in 2013-15. During that same time frame, the percentage of girls in ninth grade who had seriously considered attempting suicide increased from 25 percent to almost 27 percent.
Girls in grade 11 saw similar increases. Approximately 39 percent reported feeling chronically sad or hopeless in 2011-13, while almost 42 percent reported the same in 2013-15. Those who considered attempting suicide increased from nearly 20 percent to 23 percent in the most recent survey.
Boys, on the other hand, saw decreases in both grades and across both factors by similar percentages.
Part of that may have to do with how boys and girls are conditioned to respond emotionally from a young age, according to experts. Boys may get hurt and told to “get over it” or “toughen up,” while girls will be allowed to express they are in pain.
That is part of the reason boys are less likely to report emotional stress and seek help and also why girls are more likely to seriously consider ending their lives, said David Bond, vice president of programs for The Trevor Project.
“Boys commonly receive messages from their environments that discourage them from acknowledging feeling hurt or sad,” Bond said. “Girls experience some of this too, but society is historically more lenient about allowing girls to express themselves with a broader range of emotions.
“The pressures of adolescence are different for each gender, which may be part of the reason girls are three to four times more likely than boys to attempt suicide, but boys are three to four times more likely to die by suicide,” he explained.
In order to help students, teachers should be required to complete suicide-prevention training, Bond said schools are often a student’s first line of defense, but they should also be aware of resources already available to them through local and national organizations.
There is currently a bill moving through the state Assembly that would require districts to adopt policies on the prevention of student suicides.
For those currently in need of help, resources are also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK ).
Other highlights from the survey results include:
- A decrease in alcohol and marijuana use by 11th graders since the previous 2011–13 survey, as well as decreased lifetime use of marijuana
- Almost 33 percent of 11th grade students reported trying an e-cigarette
- Fewer students across all grade levels surveyed—seven, nine and 11—reported seeing someone carrying a weapon on school property
- The number of physical altercations decreased in all grades as well
- Just two of every five high school students feel connected to their school
- Rates of bullying and harassment remained relatively unchanged, albeit high for seventh graders at 40 percent.
- Fewer students reported being highly motivated academically.