Survey: More Minnesota students struggling with mental health than ever

Recently released results from a survey of Minnesota students show that more than ever are struggling with mental health issues.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) published the findings of the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey on Friday.

The survey began in 1989 and is carried out every three years. This year, more than 135,000 students and 70% of districts completed the survey.

MDH says the results show healthier behaviors around commercial tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sexual activity. However, they also display unprecedented struggles with mental health and behavioral or emotional problems.

This year, 29% of students reported long-term mental health issues, up from 23% in 2019 and 18% in 2016. Of students in eighth grade or higher who identified as transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary , two-spirited, or insecure, that number has skyrocketed to 63% with long-term mental, behavioral, or emotional health problems, says MDH.

“These results indicate that the pandemic fueled and worsened the current trends of our teens reporting long-term mental health problems,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “It will take more research to understand the interaction of all the factors, but it is clear that this is a crisis, and Minnesotans, policymakers and families need to focus resources and attention inside and outside of schools to provide our children and their families the connections, supports, stable environments, and opportunities they need for a sense of well-being about their lives and their futures.”

The number of students reporting suicidal thoughts also saw an alarming increase. MDH leaders say 28% of 11th grade students reported seriously considering suicide at some point in their lives, up from 24% in 2019. Once again, the numbers were even more worrisome for students LGBTQ+, who were three times more likely to report seriously considering suicide and four times more likely to attempt it.

MDH said the good news from the survey is that student smoking rates have fallen to an all-time low across all grades. For reference, just 2% of ninth-graders reported smoking this year compared to 20% in 2001. Alcohol use, sexual activity and marijuana use also decreased, according to the department.

While e-cigarette use remains higher than health officials would like, the MDH said 14% of 11th grade students reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days compared to 26% in 2019 and 17% in 2016. Among eighth graders, the numbers fell to 6% from 11% in 2019.

Other notable and concerning survey findings include:

  • Just 60% of surveyed Minnesota students reported excellent or very good health compared to 65% in 2019 and 69% in the 2016 survey.
  • The general state of health deteriorated and was poorer for the students.
  • There was a notable increase in the consumption of energy drinks, especially among female students.
  • The consumption of fruits and vegetables decreased for the students.
  • The students did not get enough sleep, especially the women.
  • 83% of students say they feel safe at home, at school, in their neighborhood, and going to and from school, down from 87% in 2019 and 90% in 2016.
  • 21% of students surveyed reported being bullied or harassed weekly in at least one form over the past 30 days. About 40% of economically disadvantaged students and 31% of LGBQ+ students reported higher rates of bullying.
  • Weekly bullying increased for students in all grades from 2019 to 2022, and cyberbullying increased among the lower grades.
  • Educational engagement continues to decline for all students surveyed, including 60% for 11th graders compared to 75% in 2013.
  • Female students miss school at a higher rate than male students because they feel very sad, hopeless, anxious, stressed or angry.
  • Student feelings of being valued and appreciated decreased across all surveyed grade levels in 2022 compared to 2019.

“The Minnesota Student Survey continues to provide important data on how students are doing and highlights where we need to focus our efforts to support them,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller. “This year’s survey paints a clear picture of the continued need to support student mental and behavioral health. The Department of Education is dedicated to working together with other educators, agencies, and our school communities to better meet the academic, mental health, and behavioral health needs of our students so they can be successful in school and beyond.”

If you or a student you know needs free and confidential support, call 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. In addition, Minnesota’s suicide prevention and mental health crisis text messaging services are now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People who text 741741 will be connected to the crisis text line.

Here is a list of resources for suicide prevention and mental health:

If you think someone is at risk of suicide, the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests you:

  • Ask questions about whether the person is having suicidal thoughts.
  • Call to US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 988 either 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professional. If it is an emergency situation, take the person to a hospital.
  • Remove any items from a person’s home that could potentially be used in a suicide.
  • Do not leave the person alone, if possible, until help is available.

The US National Suicide Prevention Organization has also compiled a list of resources to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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