New data reveals troubling mental health trend among Whatcom County teenagers

A high, and increasing, number of Whatcom County teens say they feel anxious and depressed and have seriously considered suicide, the Whatcom County Health Department said Wednesday.

The trend is being seen statewide.

Worried about the trend, public health officials are encouraging adults and peers to help troubled teens.

The new data comes from the Healthy Youth Survey, which delves into youth health and habits across a range of topics.

Based on county data in the report, a typical 10th grade classroom of 30 Whatcom students would have about:

20 students who reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge in the past two weeks.

11 students who said they have felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or longer during the year.

seven students who seriously considered suicide in the past year.

two students who tried to kill themselves in that time.

Compare that to statewide data, where a typical 10th grade classroom with 29 students in Washington would have about:

10 students who said they felt nervous, anxious or on edge in the last two weeks.

12 students who were sad or hopeless for two weeks or longer during the year.

seven students who seriously considered suicide in that same time period.

three students who attempted suicide in the past year.

Survey results also showed that Whatcom County students who were female or identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual reported feeling sad, hopeless or anxious at higher rates. They were more likely to have been bullied in the past month, according to the county health department.

Native American/Alaska Native students also reported feeling sad or hopeless at higher rates than students who were white.

Those same trends were reflected statewide, state health and school officials said in news releases.

More than 230,000 students statewide took the Healthy Youth Survey in fall 2018, which was administered by schools.

What you can do

Here’s how adults and peers can help students who need it, according to the Whatcom County Health Department:

Talk openly about mental health to let teens know you care and to help reduce stigma around mental illness.

Look for common signs of distress and the warning signs of suicide, such as talking or writing about it, obtaining a weapon or another way of hurting themselves, isolating from friends and family, and dropping out of school or activities. Learn more at seizetheawkward.org.

Ask someone, directly, if they’re thinking about suicide.

Go to a Youth Mental Health First Aid Training course. Contact the Whatcom County Health Department about upcoming events by emailing health@co.whatcom.wa.us or by calling 360-778-6000.

Encourage a teen who is struggling to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HEAL” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Details: whatcomcounty.us/360/Health-Department

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.