- Students with special needs are more likely than general education students to report having thoughts of suicide — 22% compared to 14%. But they are also more likely to report there is an adult in school they can talk to when they’re having problems or feeling upset — 53% compared to 45% of general education students — according to a new YouthTruth analysis of students’ responses over a six-year period.
- Students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals and English learners are also more likely than peers not in those groups to report their schools have programs or services to help them. Students who don’t identify as male or female, however, are less likely than other students to say there is an adult they can reach out to at school for help. These students are also more likely than their peers to say they’ve seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.
- The findings — based on a sample of 70,000 5th-12th graders across 18 states — also show females are twice as likely as males to say they’ve felt so sad or hopeless over a two-week period they’ve stopped doing some of their usual activities.
The report includes a brief profile of the 6,500-student Corvalis School District in Oregon, where survey findings showed secondary students gave less-positive responses to questions about their emotional and mental health. This result is in line with the data across the entire sample, with high school students being more likely than middle school students to report an extended time of sadness — 35% compared to 28%.
The district has responded by hiring full-time district therapists, increasing services that help students cope with stress, and raising awareness of available services through various communication strategies. The district has targeted these efforts at the elementary level “as a proactive way of meeting student's social and emotional needs throughout their school careers,” the report says.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows suicide rates among 10- to 24-year-olds have increased since 2007 and have nearly tripled among 10- to 14-year-olds. One model of prevention is the Hope Squad, currently in place in almost 100 schools in the Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio areas. The squads are made up of students trained to recognize warning signs among their peers and seek help from adults.
A recent study, still under peer review, suggests the program helps to remove the stigma associated with students who appear suicidal, which can increase the chances they’ll seek help.
In a press release, Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth, said the survey data reinforces why capturing student perceptions through surveys is important. “When it comes to topics of emotional and mental health that can be hard to talk about, getting anonymous survey data about the school experience, student and staff relationships at school, and environmental supports is more important than ever,” she said.