The 2021 North Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey data shows an increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors among students. 

The survey, which was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 30 years ago, is a way to gauge what middle and high school students are experiencing as it relates to drugs, alcohol, violence, physical activity, and mental health. It’s voluntary and anonymous. 

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Section Chief of Specialized Instructional Support and Healthy Schools Ellen Essick said that the most recent data shows that mental health issues are on the rise. 

“Percentage of high school students who strongly agree or agree that they feel good about themselves,” Essick said, explaining one of the data points at a state board of education meeting on Jan. 4. “That has gradually decreased since 2011. And we had a significant decrease from 2019 to 2021 from 60% to 49%.”

Following this trend, the percentage of students who reported having serious considerations of suicide in the last 12 months rose from 19% to 22%. There was a similar hike in students who had made plans for a suicide attempt.

The percentage of students who actually attempted suicide remained the same from 2019 to 2021 at 10%. 

But some student populations are experiencing suicidal thoughts more than others.

“If you look at 2011, for males, it was around 14%. And in 2021, it's still 14%. A little variation up and down, but still 14%,” Essick said. “But if you look at females, 2011, 15%, and that has doubled in 10 years time. And so now those who are seriously considering attempting suicide among females has doubled.”

Essick also compared responses by sexual orientation. 

Forty-eight percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents said they had seriously considered suicide. That’s more than three times the percentage for heterosexual students.

But, Essick explained that there were areas of improvement for students in terms of drug and alcohol use. 

The percentage of students who smoke cigarettes has gradually decreased since 2011, from 18% to 4%. 

“We also asked students about drinking alcohol. And that has consistently gone down since 2011. Fewer and fewer students are using alcohol,” Essick said. “We also asked our students if they're currently using marijuana. That too has dropped and pretty significantly since 2019.”

There was also a decrease in students vaping. From 2019 to 2021, the percentage dropped from 36% to 24%.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis LifelineFor suicide prevention resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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