The biannual survey of the state’s grade 5-12 students is an effort of the Maine Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and informs prevention and program planning
AUGUSTA – Maine youth are making healthier choices, including smoking and drinking less, but are increasingly struggling with their emotional wellbeing.
Those findings and other insights directly from tens of thousands of Maine students about their health and habits are detailed in the newly released results of the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS).
The survey, which has been given every odd year since 2009, is a collaboration of the Maine Department of Education and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services in the Department of Health and Human Services. The results inform prevention and program planning, as well as future funding proposals.
The survey is administered at public schools anonymously to students in grades five through 12, with more than 63,000 respondents in 2013. Parents of students in kindergarten through third grade are also surveyed, but those results are not publicly available because of a low response rate.
Most encouraging in 2013 were the dramatic decreases in substance use.
Current use of alcohol, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, marijuana, illegal prescription pills and inhalants declined in all grades surveyed, while accessing those substances was mostly deemed more difficult by students, who also report increased conversations with their parents and clarity on family rules about drug and alcohol use.
While students largely feel more supported by parents, teachers and their communities, they also admit they are increasingly struggling with feelings of sadness and hopelessness. At the high school level, 14.6 percent of students said they have seriously considered attempting suicide, and 16.8 percent of seventh and eighth graders said the same.
“That fact that more than one out of every ten children in grades seven through twelve has seriously considered suicide is alarming and brings cause for concern,’’ said Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “We encourage all students who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide to immediately reach out to an adult they trust who can help provide support and make connections to important resources.”
The State is already taking meaningful steps to help students before they harm themselves. In 2013, Governor Paul R. LePage signed a law that will require all school staff to participate in suicide prevention training. At the time, the Governor donated $44,000 from his contingency fund to support the expansion of the training in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine and DHHS and DOE.
School climate also continues to be a concern to State health and education officials.
While 89.1 percent of fifth and sixth graders, 85 percent of middle school students and 87.8 percent of high school students say they feel safe in their school, the percentage of students who report being bullied at school continues to climb.
Around half of students in grades five through eight and a quarter of high schoolers have been bullied at school, reflecting increases from 2011.
“We’re encouraged to see that Maine’s students are making healthier choices, from saying no to drug and alcohol use to wearing their seatbelts more and increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables,” said Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier. “Yet we’re deeply concerned that youth with such incredible potential are feeling so overwhelmed and hopeless. We want to remind them that they are not alone and that our schools are filled with staff who care about them and are safe sources of support. It’s hard to ask for help on behalf of yourself or a friend, but it’s also incredibly brave.”
Maine DHHS has extensive suicide prevention resources for students, families and schools at www.maine.gov/suicide and those in crisis are always encouraged to call (888)568-1112. Additionally, Maine DOE recently hired a new student assistance coordinator to lead the State’s bullying prevention efforts and launched expanded resources on its website at www.maine.gov/doe/bullying.
To see the results of the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey and for more information, visit https://data.mainepublichealth.gov/miyhs/.