If it’s a rainy day at Ridgefield High School, Madison Langer, 17, will eat lunch in her station wagon and watch “That ’70s Show” on her phone.
If it’s sunny, she blows bubbles instead of watching a show.
Regardless of the weather, the senior eats lunch alone. She’s grown used to it since she became sober a year and a half ago, she said.
Langer began using drugs and doing some drinking because it helped her fit in and find a group of friends. But when she stopped using after about a year, Langer lost her friends. In the most recent Healthy Youth Survey for 2018, she said, Langer checked some of the boxes that dealt with depression and anxiety, and she’s far from alone in her feelings.
The overall picture painted by the survey shows that Clark County teens are much more anxious, depressed and suicidal than a decade ago.
Langer now works as a prevention assistant with Prevent Coalition — the first minor to be hired by the organization. Langer loves her work with Prevent Coalition and plans to continue working there, along with some other jobs she’ll do to pay her way to Portland Community College. She aspires to get a job in marketing analytics.
Suicide was the leading cause of death for Washington teens 15 to 19 years old in 2018.
42% of Clark County 12th-graders reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year.
38% of 10th-graders and 31% of 8th-graders reported the same feelings.
22% of respondents in 10th and 12th grades reported they considered suicide in the past year.
18% of eighth-graders did the same.
16% of 12th-graders made a suicide plan in the past year.
15% of respondents in eighth and 10th grades also made suicide plans.
9% of 10th-graders attempted suicide in the past year.
8% attempted suicide in the past year in eighth and 10th grade.
68% of 12th graders reported they felt anxious, nervous or on edge in the past two weeks.
66% reported the same feeling in 10th grade, as did 54% for eighth grade.
In 2016, 17% of 12th-grade respondents reported vapor product use in the past 30 days.
In 2018, 33% of 12th graders reported vapor product use in the past 30 days.
21% reported the same for 10th grade in 2018.
In 2008, 30% of 10th grade respondents reported alcohol use in the past 30 days.
In 2018, 17% alcohol use in the past 30 days.
In 2008, 41% of 12th grade respondents reported alcohol use in the past 30 days.
In 2018, 30% alcohol use in the past 30 days.
In 2008, 24% of 12th-grade respondents reported binge drinking.
In 2018, 15% reported binge drinking.
60% of 12th-graders reported getting three or more hours of screen time daily in 2018.
57% of 10th-graders did the same.
62% of the eighth-graders get three or more hours of screen time daily.
81% of 12th-graders didn’t meet the recommended daily physical activity of 60 minutes of physical activity daily and muscle strengthening three days a week.
78% reported the same for 10th grade.
74% reported the same for sixth and eighth grade.
About the Survey
The Healthy Youth Survey for Clark County surveyed 4,695 eighth-graders, 4,434 10th-graders and 3,342 12th-graders. There were also
4,926 sixth-graders surveyed, but they took a shorter survey than the other three grades. The HYS is conducted every two years.
View the survey here: www.askhys.net
“I’m doing amazing,” Langer said. “But not everything is perfect.”
According to the new survey, 67 percent of 10th-grade respondents reported feeling anxious, nervous or depressed, while 55 percent were not able to stop or control worrying. Among 12th-graders, 68 percent were anxious, nervous or on edge, and 59 percent said they were unable to stop or control worrying.
Langer said her classmates feel pressure to create good resumes for college so they can find scholarships. In the younger grade levels it’s hard just finding your identity.
“I’ve been in a lot of those categories myself,” Langer said of the survey. “You feel like everything is on you when it’s not.”
Social media, she said, has exacerbated problems because students can compare themselves with peers, who are generally only broadcasting an upbeat, curated version of their life.
Forty-two percent of 12th-graders surveyed reported they felt depressive in 2018. Only 27 percent of 12th-graders had the same response in 2008. In addition, 22 percent of respondents reported they considered attempting suicide. That’s a 9-percentage-point increase from 2008.
Among 10th-graders, 38 percent reported depressive feelings in the last year, compared with 29 percent a decade ago. Sixteen percent had considered attempting suicide in 2008; that grew to 22 percent last year.
“We still have one out of five kids who are considering suicide and one out of 10 kids who have attempted suicide in the past year, and it’s a really big concern for us. It just seems to be getting worse,” said Kathleen Lovgren, an epidemiologist for Clark County Public Health, who works with the survey data.
Lovgren added that she thinks there’s more pressure on kids these days because they are dealing with both big and little issues.
“The kids, they’re marching for their lives. They’re marching for climate change,” Lovgren said. “They’re worried about things that aren’t just normal teenage worries like grades and sports and getting into college.”
David Hudson, the manager of the Healthy Communities Program with Clark County Public Health, said school employees have told him they need more help.
“They just don’t have enough resources for mental health in schools. There just isn’t the funding,” Hudson said. “They want more resources because they know they need it.”
Finding the cause
At Ridgefield, Langer said she thinks that substance use among her peers stems from depression and anxiety.
“It’s usually not about drugs,” Langer said. “It’s about everything else going on in their lives.”
Leanne Reid, a regional project coordinator with Prevent Coalition, said that getting at the root of what sparks substance use has been a big part of Prevent Coalition’s work.
Local teens’ use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana has stayed mostly flat or decreased over the last decade, according to the survey, and Reid said that most substance use is generally tied to other stressors. Reid explained that Prevent Coalition and most prevention work now no longer includes hard-line “Just say no” messaging. Gone are the extreme images likes black teeth or teeth falling out.
“A 16-year-old is going to smoke a cigarette and still look great,” Reid said.
Instead of scare tactics, Reid said Prevention Coalition focuses on genuine conversations with parents and youth that use research and facts to make the case for healthier choices. Reid said teens are smart and when presented with facts and evidence, they’ll generally make the right decision. The survey data for teen alcohol use in Clark County show the prevention work has had a positive impact, Reid said.
In 2008, 30 percent of 10th-grade respondents reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. That decreased to 17 percent in 2018. Binge drinking decreased from 18 percent in 2008 to 9 percent last year.
Among 12th-graders, the decreases were 11 percentage points and 9 percentage points, respectively.
The rise of vaping
While Clark County youths are drinking less, they are vaping more. A dip in vaping seen in the 2016 survey was negated after Juul, a popular vaping device, debuted in 2017.
The percentage of Washington teens who say they smoke cigarettes is less than half of what it was a decade ago, but use of e-cigarettes and vapor products seems to have replaced some of the gains.
“These companies spend a lot of money market-testing the messages of these products and the design of these products, the labeling, the flavoring they use,” Hudson said. “It’s done in a way so that it is very attractive to youth.”
In Clark County, 24 percent of 12th-graders reported using vapor products in 2014, and that number rose to 33 percent last year. Vapor product use was at 21 percent for 10th-graders for both 2014 and 2018, compared with 11 percent in 2016.
Lovgren and Hudson said it’s important to keep a balance when improving public health. Teenage alcohol use is decreasing, but that doesn’t mean it’s low enough. Vaping is on the rise, but that doesn’t mean resources need to be shifted away from alcohol, cigarette and marijuana prevention. And mental health remains an issue that could use more resources.
“As soon as we have data that shows something is leveling off or decreasing in use, a lot of times the funding goes down, and as soon as that happens, (use) goes up again,” Hudson said. “That’s what we have to be careful about.”