Youth behavior survey paints worrisome picture

By Kelly Walters Correspondent
May 5, 2023

Results from Emerson Health’s biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) are in, and the data paints a disheartening, but unsurprising picture of a compounding youth mental health crisis that school administrators have warned of for years. 

Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Kristen Anderson briefed the School Committee about the survey results on March 28. Over 7,000 sixth, eighth and 9-12 grade students at nearby public schools anonymously reported their behaviors and experiences, from social media use to self-harm during spring 2022, their first full year back in the classroom post-pandemic. 

What did the data say? Students in all grades are experiencing higher rates of depression than they were before the pandemic and a host of concerning behaviors are on the rise. In Concord in particular, Anderson flagged concerning spikes in stress, depression, self-harm and suicide consideration.

Per the report, depression, suicide consideration and self-harm have all increased among sixth graders compared to previous years, with 24 percent reporting having injured or hurt themselves on purpose in the past year. Among eighth graders, 24 percent said they felt depressed for two weeks or more. At the high school, 27 percent of students reported having felt depressed for two weeks or more. High schoolers also reported more sexual harassment, stress from academic workload and stress from pressure at home in 2022 than in previous years.

“A quarter of our kids are considering themselves depressed,” Superintendent Laurie Hunter stated at a Finance Committee meeting. “Those are unacceptable numbers and must be the priority of everyone.” 

Students belonging to historically marginalized populations were disproportionately at-risk, and Anderson shared that transgender and non-binary students reported the highest level of risk behaviors on “every measure.”

“They don’t feel as if they belong at school at higher rates, they can be bullied at higher rates, sexually harrassed and then of course be depressed, harm themselves or consider suicide at higher rates,” she said.

Hunter explained that the administration is working hard to address students’ mental health needs, citing a recent $60,000 grant to provide updated social-emotional programming and the high school’s revamped bell schedule, which will offer flexible time for students to meet with guidance counselors and support staff, among other efforts. 

“The aggregate-level work is literally teaching social-emotional skills, coping strategies, self-awareness, all of it. Trying to, in many ways, just norm the fact that this is an issue for all of us,” she said.