By Aila Boyd and Claire Kivior
The Botetourt County School Board received a report on the results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey last month during its October meeting.
A total of 1,306 Botetourt County students were surveyed on March 14 of this year. Survey participants included 308 sixth-graders, 327 eight-graders, 365 10th graders, and 306 12th graders.
The survey asked students about alcohol, tobacco/electronic vapor products/other drugs, sexual behaviors, depression/suicide, and other health and safety-related behaviors.
The survey was administered through Radford University and online, and analyzed by Radford University faculty, and Blue Ridge Behavioral Health Care.
Tobacco/electronic vapor products
According to the survey, there was a reported decrease in reported 30-day use of alcohol, marijuana or hashish, over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and heroin.
Cigarette use within 30 days of the survey for middle school students was 3.2 percent in 2017, but was only 1.6 percent in 2019. Chewing tobacco for the same 30-day period was 5.2 percent in 2017 and came in at 1.7 percent in 2019.
Despite the decreased usage of cigarettes and chewing tobacco among middle school students between 2017 and 2019, the number of reported 30-day and lifetime use rates of electronic vapor products increased. In 2017, the 30-day use percentage rate was 5.6 percent. In 2019, it increased to 7.3 percent. In 2017, the lifetime use percentage rate was 13.5 percent. In 2019, it was 15.7 percent.
The decrease in 30-day use of cigarettes among high school students also fell between 2017 and 2019, going from 18.6 percent in 2017 to 11.6 percent in 2019. Chewing tobacco use in 30 days of the survey dropped from 13.2 percent in 2017 to 8.9 percent in 2019.
The increased usage of electronic vapor products that occurred among the middle school students that were surveyed continued up into the high school grades. The number of high school students who reported 30-day electronic vapor products jumped exactly 10 points between 2017 and 2019, going from 23.2 percent to 33.2 percent. The number of students who reported lifetime use of electronic vapor products jumped even higher, going from 42.2 percent in 2017 to 54.0 percent in 2019.
For the purpose of the survey, bullying was defined as “physical intimidation, taunting, name-calling, lying about others, and insults or other comments related to race, gender, religion, physical ability, or character that occurs repeatedly over time.” All but one of the categories for bullying among middle school students decreased. The “reported missing school because of being bullied” category saw a slight increase, going from 10.0 percent in 2017 to 10.8 percent in 2019.
The other category results are as follows:
- Reported being bullied— 48.4 percent in 2017 and 45.6 percent in 2019
- Reported being bullied daily/several times a day— 14.4 percent in 2017 and 12.7 percent in 2019
- Did not help someone being bullied— 6.0 percent in 2017 and 5.1 percent in 2019
- Reported bullying someone else— 21.0 percent in 2017 and 15.3 percent in 2019
As for high school students, all categories saw significant decreases. The most significant change was in the category of “reported bullying someone else.” In 2017, 33.9 percent of students reported themselves as bullying. In 2019, this percentage decreased by over 10 percent to 21.7 percent.
The category of “Did not help someone being bullied” decreased by 0.9 percent from 2017 to 2019. This may be the result of an overall decrease in students being bullied, as well as the decrease in self-reported bullies.
Other notable category results are as follows:
- Reported being bullied— 37.7 percent in 2017, and 32.3 percent in 2019
- Reported being bullied daily/several times a day— 10.9 percent in 2017 and 7.6 percent in 2019
- Reported missing school because of being bullied— 10.1 percent in 2017, and 9.3 percent in 2019
- Did not help someone being bullied— 8.5 percent in 2017, and 7.6 percent in 2019
Both middle schoolers and high schoolers surveyed displayed decreased percentages in the majority of categories from the initial report in 2017, to the latest report in 2019. The high school reporting decreased in every category. The middle schoolers decreased percentage in every category aside from “reported missing school because of being bullied.”
Depression and Suicide
The survey defined depression as “feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that results in stopping some usual activities during the past 12 months.”
Middle school and high school students were asked to self-report on the categories of “experiencing symptoms of depression, reported making a plan of how they would attempt suicide, reported attempting suicide one or more ties, reported attempted suicide resulting in hospitalization.”
For the category “reported experiencing symptoms of depression” there was a large increase in percentage value from 2017 to 2019 among middle schoolers. In 2017, 18.6 percent of middle school students confirmed experiencing symptoms of depression. In 2019, this percentage increased by 8.1 percent to 26.7 percent. Over a quarter of the middle school population reported confirming symptoms of depression. More students reported a higher percentage of “making a plan of how they would attempt suicide.” This percentage increased by 0.4 percent, from 11.6 percent in 2017, to 12.0 percent in 2019. The percentage of students who reported attempting suicide one or more times decreased from 8.9 percent in 2017, to 6.7 percent in 2019. Lastly, there was a highly significant decrease in the percentage of students who “reported attempted suicide resulting in hospitalization.” The percentage of hospitalization reports was 5.6 percent in 2017, and 1.9 percent in 2019. This is a 3.7 percent decrease.
Among high schools students, all categories decreased in percentage value. The most significant difference was the decrease in high school students who reported “making a plan” from 20.1 percent in 2017, to 12.8 percent in 2019.
Middle School Conclusions
In the data which reported 30-day drug use, “almost all” drug use has decreased since 2017, and the familiar influence against drug use increased. Sexual behaviors in the eighth-grade group has decreased. There were less reports of bullying or being bullied. However, the amount of depressive feelings has increased, yet the amount of suicide attempts has decreased.
High School Conclusions
“Almost all” short-term and long-term drug use has decreased. In the high school group, similar results appeared about bulling and being bullied. All results about depressive thought and suicide attempts have decreased since 2017, however these numbers are still higher than state and national average.
Julie Baker, supervisor of Special Education for Botetourt County Public Schools, said that surveys like these “give us a snapshot of how our youth are participating in some of these risky behaviors.”
The survey results illuminate commonalities across the valley. The School Board is currently brainstorming new and innovative ways to combat the issues facing area youth. Baker claims that to do so, “We must create a climate which is nurturing. We will continue to review our policies, our procedures and our curriculum. We think education is very important in these topics.” And so, the School Board will be pairing with organizations like the Botetourt Prevention Coalition and the Virginia Department of Health to create community action plans.