SALT LAKE CITY—Amidst an unprecedented global pandemic and accelerating climate crisis, it’s no surprise that mental health treatment needs for youth increased in 2021. However, looking at the data in context tells a more nuanced story, and reveals the strength of Utah’s public health and prevention infrastructure.
According to the newest Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey results, 33% of the 70,000 Utah youth surveyed said they had felt anxious, sad or hopeless due to the coronavirus in the past year, and 17.5% said they had considered suicide. The increase in the percentage of students who reported suicide ideation was similar to the trends seen since 2011.
“Utah has invested a lot of time and resources building up strong protective systems, such as coalitions, in our communities because we were already seeing a high need prior to the pandemic,” said Susannah Burt, Prevention Administrator at the Utah Department of Human Services.
“Of course COVID-19 has been an incredibly stressful reality—but we have been building prevention, help-seeking, harm reduction, and treatment strategies over time, which have protected youth during the pandemic and helped mitigate harm.”
Burt points to several indications that youth behavioral health was relatively stable in 2021:
- All substance use rates decreased, except inhalants
- Increases in mental health treatment needs and suicide ideation were consistent with pre-pandemic trends
That said, the 2021 report also revealed some disturbing trends:
- Increased screen time that was not school-related
- Fewer students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night
- Increased feelings of social isolation
- Increased high-to-moderate mental health treatment needs, especially for some communities of color
Perhaps most troublingly, youth are less likely than in previous years to seek support, even from their families.
“This is a critical time to reinforce that it is okay to struggle or feel sad or hopeless, but we do not want people to struggle alone in silence. Please reach out if you are struggling, and if you see someone else who seems to be struggling, please reach out to them,” Burt said.
Live On Utah (liveonutah.org) is Utah’s hub for resources, getting help, giving help, and getting involved with suicide prevention.
The SHARP survey is administered every other year in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in schools across the state. It is a collaborative, multi-agency initiative designed to assess adolescent behavioral health, substance use, and risk and protective factors in youth. The findings help educators and other government agencies track trends, plan programs, and deploy resources to communities. The SHARP survey has been conducted in the spring of odd-numbered years since 2003.
Download Susannah Burt’s 2021 SHARP Media Training slideshow here.