Kitsap survey: Youth health improving since COVID

It’s been well-documented the past few years that youth have been struggling during and after the COVID pandemic.

But a new Health Youth Survey shows encouraging trends in Kitsap County, with students reporting lower substance use and increased social support. The survey also highlighted areas of concern, such as increased use of some drugs and depression, some groups more so than others.

“We see a lot of cause for optimism in these survey results, especially as our community continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jessica Guidry, Kitsap Public Health District assistant community health director. “The survey also shows we collectively have a lot of work to do to ensure young people in Kitsap have what they need to thrive, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.”

State agencies administer the Healthy Youth Survey every two years to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. Results from 2023 represent anonymous responses from more than 217,000 Washington students, including 6,627 from Kitsap County. Many organizations, including schools, government agencies and nonprofits, use the results to understand student needs and strengthen resources to promote youth well-being and resilience.

Here are key trends highlighted in the responses from 10th-graders (these results are considered the best indicator of the health of high school students):Youth substance use trends are encouraging. A roughly 50% decrease in most youth substance use was reported from 2018 to 2021, both in Kitsap and statewide. Substance use rates remained largely unchanged.

Use of some drugs increased. Misuse of prescription drugs, painkillers and some illegal drugs increased from 2021 to 2023, but less than four out of 100 in Kitsap reported those behaviors. But Kitsap students did report misusing painkillers at a higher rate than students statewide.

Students reporting depressive feelings and contemplation of suicide remains highly concerning. In Kitsap, more than one in three students reported persistent depressive feelings and nearly one in five reported having contemplated suicide; both rates higher than statewide. However, the rate of students reporting suicidal thoughts statewide was the lowest in 20 years.

Some groups are more likely to report feeling depressed. In Kitsap and statewide, students who identified as female were nearly two times more likely to report depressive feelings. Statewide, students who reported a disability were three times more likely to report depressive feelings. Additionally, students who identified as LGBTQ+ were two times more likely to report depressive feelings.

Students reported increased social supports. The supports included having adults to turn to when they felt depressed and having people at school who could help them.

More specific results from Kitsap show 10th graders smoked cigarettes and pot and binge drank slightly more than the state average. They also carried weapons and were bullied slightly more. 6% have a friend who used hard drugs, and 80% think that is very wrong; 48.5% say teachers praise them at school; 23.2% don’t feel safe at school; 48.5% dislike school; 21% have received sexual messages on social media in the previous month; 90.7% say they rarely are treated badly because of their race; 44.5% say adults often try to stop bullying at school; 22% say they worry about not having enough food to eat; 27.6% say they worry about not being able to afford rent; almost 25% worry a parent may lose a job; almost 40% lose motivation do to the internet; 35.1% said they were put down at home; 22.5% said they have been physically abused; 27% said they have seen an adult in the house physically abused; 11.4% said there are gangs at school; 81% said they have never had sex; 13.7% use condoms when having sex; 31.3% use social media once or more per hour; 73.6% spend three or more hours per day on an electronic device, not including schoolwork; 68.8% would at least somewhat disapprove if a friend had two alcoholic drinks a day.