New data on the health of Whatcom County youth show a high and increased number of students reporting feelings of anxiety and depression and seriously considering suicide. There are also significant disparities between certain groups of students, with female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual reporting higher rates of experiencing bullying and of feeling sad, hopeless, or anxious.
While the trends are concerning, adults and peers can help students in distress. Caring adults, together with supportive schools and communities, can help young people feel connected to a support network and learn skills to cope with the challenges they face. Suicide is preventable and mental health conditions can be treated.
Here’s how to help:
Have open conversations about mental health. Being an empathetic listener lets youth know there is someone who cares about them, and helps reduce the stigma associated with talking about mental illness. It can be difficult to start a conversation, but there are many resources available to guide you.
Know what to look for and how to ask questions.
- Keep an eye out for common signs of distress and the warning signs of youth suicide.
- If you’re concerned someone is thinking about suicide, it’s important to ask them directly, even if it feels uncomfortable.
- Attend a Youth Mental Health First Aid Training. Several local organizations offer trainings throughout the year; contact Whatcom County Health Department to find out about upcoming trainings. Local organization M.A.D. H.O.P.E. (Making A Difference-Helping Other People Everywhere) also offers training in youth suicide prevention, including an upcoming train-the-trainer program on May 11. Contact M.A.D. H.O.P.E. for details.
Encourage youth to reach out for support. Local mental health services are listed on the health department’s website. If you know a young person who is struggling, encourage them to talk to a trusted adult or access free, confidential support 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or texting HEAL to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
Prioritize safety. If you believe someone is in immediate danger of suicide and has access to a firearm or other potentially deadly means, call 911. If they’re struggling but not in immediate danger, help them make a safety plan and connect to services.
Whatcom County Data:
Based on Whatcom County data, a typical 10th grade classroom of 30 students would include about:
- 20 students who said they felt nervous, anxious, or on edge over the past two weeks.
- 11 students who have felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or longer in the past year.
- 7 students who seriously considered suicide in the past year.
- 2 students who attempted suicide in the past year.
Whatcom County survey results show disparate outcomes by gender, sexual orientation and race or ethnicity, with certain groups of students feeling distress at significantly higher rates. Female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual reported higher rates of feeling sad, hopeless or anxious, and were more likely to have experienced bullying in the past month. Students who are Native American/Alaska Native experience higher rates of feeling sad or hopeless than students who are white.
Whatcom County trends are similar to statewide numbers recently released from the Healthy Youth Survey. You can learn more about indicators of youth health and wellness at askhys.net.