KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Mental health issues among Knox County students are on the rise while tobacco and alcohol use is declining, according to a new report from the Knox County Health Department.
The 2022 Knox County High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was created through a partnership between Knox County Schools and the health department with support from the Metro Drug Coalition. It was conducted in March 2022 and surveyed ninth through 12th-grade students in Knox County Schools. The survey, which is also conducted on a state and national level, is designed to track behaviors that negatively affect the physical and mental health of high schoolers. It focuses on issues such as self-harm and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, and weight control and diet.
One of the more concerning findings in the report includes feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Nearly 40% of students shared that they felt so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing normal activities for two or more weeks in a row. Female students (49.6%) were also more likely to report this than male students (28%).
In addition to this, nearly 17% of students said they were bullied on school property and 16% said they were bullied online over the past 12 months. A larger portion of female students (21%) also reported being bullied online than male students (10%).
“Supporting the social and emotional well-being of students is an essential part of our work, and this report provides important insight into some of the challenges they face,” said Jason Myers, Assistant Superintendent of Student Success for Knox County Schools.
A positive note on the mental health of students is that a decrease in suicide attempts was found. According to the report, 9% of students attempted suicide during the past 12 months, a significant decrease from 2019 when 18% of students reported this behavior.
The report also found that less than 4% of students smoked cigarettes during the past 30 days. This represents a significant decline in cigarette use among KCS students since 2005.
However, 18% of students reported using a vape in the past 30 days. This does represent a decrease since 2019 when it was nearly 29%.
The age to buy or possess tobacco products rose was raised to 21 in December 2019.
For alcohol, more than one out of six (19%) students reported drinking in the past 30 days. This marks a decrease from 2019 when nearly 31% reported drinking.
For illicit drugs (excluding alcohol and tobacco), the report found one out of six (17%) students reported using drugs during the past 30 days and one out of four (27%) students were offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property over the past 12 months.
The report also found that one out of seven (15%) students were in a physical fight over the last 12 months, marking a 12% decrease from 2019. However, 22% of students said they have seen someone physically attacked, beaten, stabbed or shot in their neighborhood.
The 2023 Knox County survey will be based on input from middle school students as the two age groups are assessed in alternate years.
“As one of only a few counties who conduct their own YRBS, we know how important it is to get a glimpse into the major health concerns that affect students in our community,” said KCHD Senior Director Kevin Parton. “With the information from this report, we, along with our partners, can assess current efforts and better determine the resources that students and their families need.”