Survey: Washington youth continue to report higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts

The number of kids in Washington state considering suicide and feeling depressed continues to rise, according to a statewide youth survey.

Among high school seniors, 41 percent had "depressive feelings," and 22 percent said they considered attempting suicide, according to the state's Healthy Youth Survey administered every two years. And 15 percent of high school seniors said they had no adults to turn to when feeling sad or hopeless.

It continues an upward trend this decade among students — in 2010, 28 percent of seniors reported depressive feelings and 14 said they considered taking their own life. And it has led to calls for more mental health support in schools and in the larger community.

"Our students need more support at school," says Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. "Whether it's increased access to a counselor, multiple pathways to high school graduation, or education about consent — our students are telling us what they need, and we have a responsibility to act on it."

Ashley Beck, senior research scientist for the Spokane Regional Health District, says she was "disheartened" and "concerned" at the data. She says the health district will be trying to grow and re-establish a suicide prevention task force. 

"The schools are one aspect, but this is a community-wide issue," Beck says. "There's a place for a lot of different sectors to support suicide prevention."

Beck says more focus should be given to the risk factors for suicide. Suicidal ideation and depression have risen among Spokane County youth in the last decade. So have experiences of abuse from an adult. Nearly one in five youth have easy access to guns, and one in four youth use one or more illicit substances, though that is actually lower than a decade ago.

Additionally, students are increasingly reporting that they don't feel safe in school. About one in five now say they don't feel safe, a jump from two years ago. That's correlated with lower grades in school, according to the survey.

Spokane Public Schools has been searching for ways to combat surging suicide rates recently. It's also part of the reason the district has asked for a larger state investment in part to help pay for counselors. The district feels it speaks to the need for more nurses, counselors, safety officers, psychologists and mental health therapists. Currently, one-third of those costs come from state funding, and the rest come from local resources which the state has put a cap on.

All 44 of the district's mental health therapists are funded from local funds, as are all but one of the district's 28 psychologists.

Spokane Public Schools spokesperson Brian Coddington says the data from the Healthy Youth Survey is "important."

"These are the kind of factors and things we're tracking on a regular basis and incorporating for the thought process on operating schools and making sure we have the best learning environment for everyone," Coddington says. 

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione is the Inlander’s news editor. Aside from writing and editing investigative news stories, he enjoys hiking, watching basketball and spending time with his wife and cat.