Snohomish County students are avoiding the use of harmful substances, but mental health concerns remain

Snohomish County students are making healthy decisions to avoid using harmful substances according to results from a recent survey.


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More than 15,000 Snohomish County students participated in the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey in fall 2021. Participants included students in sixth, eighth,10th, and 12th grades. Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said the survey is used to gather information on topics including physical activity, nutrition, and alcohol and drug use.

“The survey is one of a number of tools we use in public health to learn about what is going well, and what can be improved upon for the health of youths in our community,” Spitters said.

Highlights based on results of the survey included:

  • Reports of substance abuse were lower than in recent years among students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, including fewer reports of students smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using marijuana or hashish in the 30 days prior to taking the survey
  • A smaller number of students’ living arrangements were affected as a result of their family’s inability to afford housing compared with survey results from previous years
  • Fewer students reported that their family needed to cut meal sizes or skip meals due to a lack of money for food than in previous years
  • Fewer students reported engaging in physical fights in the previous 12 months prior to taking the survey compared with previous years

There were some areas of concern within the survey results, however, Spitters said.

“One of these is youth mental health, which is certainly not a new concern,” he said. “That’s not unique to Snohomish County, and has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the social and educational consequences of it.”

Survey results that could cause concern included:

  • Students in sixth grade are more likely than students in other grades to report extreme worry about pandemic-related economic security, including instances of their parents or guardians losing jobs, being unable to afford housing, or being unable to purchase enough food
  • About the same proportion of students reported suicidal ideations as in previous years, with a slight increase in depression reported
  • More students are spending three or more hours per day watching TV, streaming videos or playing computer or video games, or participating in activities that are not related to doing schoolwork, which could affect mental health

Spitters said it is important to use caution when identifying trends based off of the latest survey results, however.

“While the trends and results are informative and helpful, we’ve traditionally surveyed the same set of kids every two years,” he said. “With COVID, we missed the 2020 round. So, it’s a different set of kids. The big picture is probably not much different due to that, but we should be careful about overinterpreting small changes. It’s worth noting that, in light of the past two years, the students have been living in notably different circumstances than the students who took the survey back in 2018. A number of the changes we see in that data may indeed reflect impacts of the pandemic.”

Student experiences were shaped by unique factors including remote learning, spending more time at home, changes in the way activities or events were held, and programs that were introduced or expanded during the pandemic, Spitters said.

“Future Healthy Youth surveys may give us a better handle on potential trends, as well as better visibility beyond the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.