Statewide survey finds MN students in mental health ‘crisis’

Published 7:40 pm Sunday, December 25, 2022

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By Elizabeth Shockman, Minnesota Public Radio News

Nearly a third of Minnesota students are struggling with long-term mental health problems. That’s according to the results of the 2022 Minnesota student survey, which was released on Friday.

The number of students indicating they’re dealing with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues is up from 18 percent in 2016 and is higher than at any other time in the history of the survey, which began in 1989.

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“It is clear that this is a crisis,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “These results indicate the pandemic fueled and worsened ongoing trends of our teens reporting long-term mental health problems.”

The survey, which is conducted every three years, was administered to more than 135,000 students in various Minnesota schools over the first six months of 2022. Some 70 percent of Minnesota districts participated.

The survey also found that a larger percentage of Minnesota students are experiencing serious suicidal thoughts. Reports of 11th graders seriously considering suicide jumped four percentage points since before the pandemic in 2019.

Not all students struggled with mental health at the same rates. Nearly half of 11th grade girls reported long-term mental health, behavioral or emotional problems — a 10 percentage point increase over 2019.

That’s compared to only 20 percent of male 11th grade students who reported similar problems this year. LGBTQ+ students were about four times as likely as heterosexual students to attempt suicide.

“We expected post pandemic that we would see some disruption and we expected to see greater deterioration in mental health and that’s exactly what we found. Kids are doing poorer across a whole wide variety of mental health indicators,” said Sharrilyn Helgertz, a research scientist at the Minnesota Department of Health.

“These kids are clearly struggling. Especially our girls. The disparity between boys and girls worsened in 2022. They were already worse off in previous administrations of the survey but now it’s even worse,” Helgertz said. “We need to come around these kids and help them feel more hopeful about their future.”

Despite unprecedented levels of reported mental health struggles, students say they are engaging less frequently in risky behaviors. Student smoking rates have fallen to an all-time low across all grades.

Only two percent of ninth graders reported smoking cigarettes in 2022, as compared to 20 percent in 2001. Alcohol use, sexual activity and marijuana use also fell compared to previous survey results.

The survey also quizzed students on things like how engaged they were at school, how valued they felt in class, whether they thought their teachers cared about them. Data on each of these indicators worsened for students. Just over half of 11th graders said they felt valued and appreciated in 2022, as compared to 61 percent in 2019.

The survey also asked about bullying. Statewide, over 20 percent of students said they faced some form of bullying in the last month.

That number doubled for economically disadvantaged students — 40 percent of whom said they faced bullying. It also went up for LGBTQ+ students; over 30 percent of whom said they faced bullying.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential phone & text crisis support. Call or text 988 to get started.