YAKIMA, Wash. -- One in five Yakima County 10th-grade students contemplated suicide last year, while one in 10 attempted it, the latest Washington state Healthy Youth Survey shows.
The numbers were similar for 12th-grade students, and only slightly better among eighth-grade students.
They match a troubling statewide trend — the number of Washington students in eighth and 10th grade who have contemplated suicide has increased 6 percent during the past decade. And, the number of 12th graders contemplating suicide has risen 8 percent.
In fact, the report says, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Washington teens ages 15 to 19. Nationwide, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for ages 12 to 19, following accidents and homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yakima County’s rates of depressive feelings were slightly higher than the statewide average.
Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic behavioral health consultant Courtney Valentine, a licensed psychologist, speculated that the higher rate may be due to different stressors among Valley teens and their families, specifically stemming from work and fears around changing immigration policies among the farm worker population.
Those issues are exacerbated by the shortage of mental health resources here, she said.
“We have them, but we don’t have enough, and there’s a very long wait-list,” Valentine said.
In her role, embedded in Farm Workers’ Toppenish medical clinic, Valentine works as a liaison, seeing kids and families identified by the medical provider as needing behavioral health help.
Many health clinics are pushing hard to improve screening for depression and other behavioral health issues earlier, she said, so they can get kids and teens into needed services rather than waiting until someone voices thoughts of suicide.
In addition to the risk of suicide or long-term mental health issues, depressive feelings correlate to lower grades in school compared to teens who aren’t experiencing those thoughts, the survey says.
For the past two publications, 2014 and 2016, the Healthy Youth Survey did not record the number of students who said they were unlikely to seek help if they were depressed, but prior surveys showed that between 39 and 49 percent of students said they were not likely to do so.
The Healthy Youth Survey looks at a wide range of behaviors and health-related factors, including bullying, weight and physical activity, and alcohol and tobacco use. Depending on the grade and reporting measure, between 2,000 and 3,500 local students were included in the survey.
Yakima County rates of bullying and harassment also were slightly higher than the statewide average. While around 70 percent of students surveyed said they knew how to report bullying, 29 percent of sixth graders and 29 percent of eighth graders said they had been bullied at school in the past year.
That number dropped to 23 percent among 10th grade students and 17 percent among 12th graders.
For eighth, 10th and 12th grade students, 7 to 14 percent reported being harassed because of their sexual orientation or race.
Bullying in school is a big risk factor for depression, Valentine said, so clinics such as Farm Workers are working with local schools to be sure to spot struggling students.
“The big thing is understanding what the signs and symptoms (of depression) are for kids and adults. They look a little different for kids and teens,” she said.
In kids and teens, she said, teachers and parents should be watching for big changes in sleeping patterns, appetite or concentration; as well as increased irritability that lasts two weeks or more, rather than just the sadness and crying that is more indicative of depression in adults.
As for physical health, 33 percent of eighth graders, and 34 percent of 10th and 12th graders were overweight or obese in 2016. Yakima County’s rates were 5 to 7 percent higher than the statewide averages for those grades.
Obesity rates have been ticking upward for the past decade.
Another concerning trend is the lack of oral health care. The number of students who had seen a dentist in the past year dropped by more than 10 percent between 2006 and 2016. Last year, 6 percent of eighth, 10th and 12th grade students reported missing school because of a toothache.
For more survey results, review the fact sheets available on the Healthy Youth Survey website: www.askhys.net.