2021 Healthy Youth Survey shows mental health concerns, decreased substance abuse

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The Washington State Health Care Authority has released the results from the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey, which focuses on the health behaviors of young people across the state. 

The data is used to determine students’ needs and how to best meet them. Every two years, the survey is taken by students from 6th to 12th grade, with voluntary and anonymous participation among students. 

First impressions from the data suggest that some health behaviors are improving, like a decrease in substance use. But mental health remains a concern.

In 2021, 7 out of 10 10th grade students reported feelings of nervousness, anxiousness, being on edge and/or an inability to stop or control their worrying. Additionally, 20% reported considering suicide in the past year, with 16% reporting making a plan in that time. 8% reported attempting suicide in the past year. 

Certain student groups are affected more heavily by this, like females, LGBTQ+ youth, those with disabilities and those from low-income households. 

“Reports of our children suffering with mental health issues are a worrisome public health concern,” said Secretary of Health Umair Shah, M.D., M.P.H. “Mental health is a part of our children’s overall health and well-being. It is imperative that we all continue to work together to fully support the whole child by providing information and access to behavioral health resources to youth and the trusted adults in their lives.”

More students responded that using alcohol, tobacco or marijuana would be a health risk than in 2018. Each of these substances had significantly lower usage rates. Only 8% reported using alcohol in the last month, 19% less than 2018. 7% reported using marijuana, 18% less than 2018. A low 2% reported smoking cigarettes, down 5% from 2018. 8% reported vaping in the past month, down an impressive 21%. 

“It’s encouraging to see these low rates of substance use reported this year,” said Director of Health Care Authority, Sue Birch. “We know preventing youth from using substances, especially at early ages, can support healthier brain development and contribute to school success and overall improved adolescent health outcomes.”

There are several resources available on various levels that can help young people with behavioral health concerns/issues, including: 

StartTalkingNow, with tips on how to talk, bond and monitor with teens

The Trevor Project, with resources for LGBTQ+ youth

Teen Link, with help for teens by teens

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255

The Crisis Text Line, confidential texting with a crisis counselor at any time, text HOME to 741741

Or any of the resources listed under the state's Youth Suicide Prevention page.