Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows improvements in mental health, physical activity

Michael Perchick Image
Friday, June 14, 2024
Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows improvements in mental health
After years of mental health and physical activity metrics trending downward, the newest Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed positive gains in middle and high school students.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After years of mental health and physical activity metrics trending downward, the newest Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed positive gains in middle and high school students.

"We've got data that shows a relationship between the kinds of grades that kids normally make vs. the kind of risk factors that that they're exposed to. We see that the kids who are more physically active tend to make better grades. The kids who have better mental health tend to make better grades," said Les Spell, the Data and Policy Consultant for NC Healthy Schools for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Spell, a former educator, is encouraged by these findings, which are compiled every two years from students across the state. Responses to the survey are anonymous.

It shows that the percentage of high schoolers who reported feeling sad or hopeless dropped from 43% to 39%, while the percentage of middle schoolers who reported feeling sad or hopeless dipped from 35% to 32%. Further, the percentage of high school students who seriously contemplated suicide fell from 22% to 18%.

As it pertains to physical activity, 42% of high school students and 52% of middle school students reported engaging in an hour of physical activity at least five days a week, eight-point jumps amongst each group.

"When we saw that the physical activity increased and the mental health factors turned the right direction, we thought what better time than to try and capitalize on this moment," said Spell.

Last month, a policy amendment was presented to the State Board of Education, which would require high school students to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a week. Currently, the lone graduation requirement is one semester of health and education. This amendment will be voted on during next month's meeting.

Spell also credited the implementation of the school-based mental health policy, as well as a federal grant to increase the number of social workers and counselors in helping improve outcomes.

"We're waiting to hear back on a grant application right now about school psychologists. We're trying to get some additional funding to recruit," said Spell.

According to Mental Health America, signs of loneliness in adolescents include:

  • Retreat to their rooms for long periods of time
  • Speak with parents more than usual
  • Appear to not have friends to hang out with outside of school
  • Talk negatively about themselves

"No matter what you're going through, you can always talk to somebody," said Theophilus Jones, a father and educator.

Jones is the founder of Southeast Raleigh Panthers, a youth program that offers extracurricular activities and programs for more than 200 children.

"When you see that kid come in and he's shy, timid, maybe insecure about his weight, and by the middle and end of the season, he's one of the first kids to practice, one of the kids that's telling jokes and laughing with everybody, it's a wonderful thing to see the growth of that kid," said Jones.

He supports further efforts to enhance physical activity, including opportunities to teach students outside of the classroom.

"We don't really call them issues, we call them challenges. And we can overcome any challenges that we face once we overcome the challenge," said Jones.

Further findings in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found high schoolers report decreased use of vape products, marijuana, and alcohol, while cigarette smoking remains at an all-time low (4%).

To watch 'The Silent Struggle', a mental health town hall presented by ABC11 featuring an expert panel of guests, click here.