Mental health, suicidal thoughts among students alarm Minnesota Department of Health
More students are reporting struggles with their mental health and having serious consideration of suicidal thoughts. However, they're also making healthier decisions regarding substance use.
ST. PAUL — A triennial survey of Minnesota students is causing alarm at the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH) after growing numbers of students expressed having serious suicidal thoughts and identified as having long-term mental health issues in 2022.
The Minnesota Student Survey is a voluntary survey of more than 135,000 students in fifth-, eighth-, ninth- and 11-grade conducted from January to June of every third year. Covering a wide variety of topics such as school climate, bullying, substance use and more, the results provide a picture of the well-being of the state’s students and provide a framework for how to improve it.
In what the DOH described as an alarming trend, the 2022 survey saw 28% of 11th graders report seriously considering suicide at some point in their life, a jump from 24% in 2019 and 23% in 2016.
Those numbers are even higher for 11th graders who identify as LGBTQ+, as the results indicated students in that group are three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to report considering suicide and four times more likely to attempt suicide.
Also trending upwards is the number of students who report experiencing long-term mental health issues. Nearly 30% of all students surveyed struggled with their mental health for six months or longer, a 66.6% increase from the 2016 survey.
The group most likely to deal with long-term mental health issues was 11th grade females, of which 45% identified as experiencing, up from 27% in 2016. Only 20% of males in 11th grade reported struggling with long-term mental health issues.
“These results indicate the pandemic fueled and worsened ongoing trends of our teens reporting long-term mental health problems,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “It will take more research to know the interplay of all the factors, but it is clear that this is a crisis, and Minnesotans, lawmakers and families need to focus resources and attention in and outside of schools to give our children and their families the connections, supports, stable environments and opportunities they need for a sense of well-being about their lives and futures.”
Students report engaging in healthier behaviors
While the DOH acknowledges that an increase in mental health challenges is correlated with the likelihood of a student engaging in unhealthy behaviors, Minnesota students are actually improving how they engage in sex, drugs, alcohol and commercial tobacco.
Cigarette usage among all grades has fallen 90% since 2001, with only 2% of all students surveyed reporting smoking cigarettes. Though e-cigarette usage among high school juniors skyrocketed to 26% in the 2019 survey, that number dropped to 14% this year. Usage among eighth graders also dropped by 45% over the past three years. Marijuana and alcohol use among 11th graders are also down an average of 25.5%.
"The Minnesota Student Survey continues to provide important data about how students are doing and highlights where we must focus our efforts to support them," said Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller. "This year's survey reveals a clear picture of the continuing need to support student mental and behavioral health. The Department of Education is dedicated to working together with other educators, agencies, and our school communities to better meet the academic, mental health and behavioral health needs of our students so they can be successful in school and beyond."
Other key takeaways
- Only 60% of Minnesota students surveyed reported excellent or very good health compared to 65% in 2019 and 69% in the 2016 survey.
- General health status deteriorated and was poorer for female students.
- There was a notable increase in energy drink consumption, especially for female students.
- Fruit and vegetable consumption declined for female students.
- Girls were more likely than boys to skip lunch.
- Students were not getting enough sleep, especially female students.
- 83% of students say they feel safe at home, at school, in their neighborhood and going to and from school compared with 87% in 2019 and 90% in 2016.
- 21% of students surveyed reported being bullied or harassed weekly in at least one way during the last 30 days. About 40% of economically disadvantaged students and 31% of LGBQ+ students reported higher rates of bullying.
- Weekly bullying increased for students in all grades from 2019 to 2022.
- Fifth grade: rose from 21% to 23%
- Eighth grade: rose from 21% to 23%
- Ninth grade: rose from 18% to 19%
- 11th grade: rose from 14% to 17%
- Cyberbullying increased among the lower grades from 2019 to 2022.
- Fifth grade: rose from 18% to 24%
- Eighth grade: rose from 15% to 17%
- Ninth grade: rose from 14% to 15%
- 11th grade: stayed the same at 12%
- Educational engagement continues to decrease for all students surveyed. It dropped from 75% in 2013 to 60% in 2022 for 11th graders. This measure is based on six questions, which relate to caring about how they do in school, whether they pay attention in class, going to class prepared, trying to learn things that interest them, thinking what they learn in school is useful and that being a student is an important part of who they are.
- Female students are missing school at higher rates than male students because they felt very sad, hopeless, anxious, stressed or angry. Among ninth graders, 23% of girls versus 7% of boys had missed school because of these reasons.
- Students across all grades agreed that teachers at their school care about students. Compared to 2019:
- Fifth grade: remained the same at 95%
- Eighth grade: remained the same at 86%
- Ninth grade: remained the same at 86%
- 11th grade: rose slightly from 87% to 88%
- Student feelings of being valued and appreciated decreased for all grade levels surveyed in 2022 compared to 2019.
- Fifth grade: decreased to 67% from 72%
- Eighth grade: decreased to 58% to 65%
- Ninth grade: decreased to 55% to 63%
- 11th grade: decreased to 55% from 61%
“The results of the Minnesota Student Survey are a continued call to action for prioritization of children, youth, and families and coordinated budget and policy development across state government that advances the needs of each and every child and young person in our communities,” said Erin Bailey, executive director, Minnesota Children’s Cabinet.
If you or a student you know needs free and confidential support, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. In addition, Minnesota’s suicide prevention and mental health crisis texting services are now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People who text 741741 will be connected to the Crisis Text Line.