Teen mental health declined during pandemic, CDC data shows. How Arizona schools seek to help

February 24, 2023

Indicators of poor mental health among U.S. high school students show an increasing portion of teens are struggling, according to a report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The percentage of high schoolers who reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased from 37% to 42% from 2019 to 2021, according to the report.

That group of students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities.

Statistics from 2021 also show that girls and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning or another non-heterosexual identity were more likely than other students to have reported signs of poor mental health. In fact, among high schoolers, 60% of girls and 70% of LGBTQ+ students reported persistent negative feelings.

Other indicators of poor mental health also increased from 2019 to 2021, according to CDC data. The percentage of teens who considered attempting suicide went from 19% to 22%, and the share of those who made a suicide plan ticked up from 16% to 18%.

The percentage of students who needed medical intervention because of an injury obtained when attempting suicide was 3% in 2021, the same as in 2019.

Resources available in metro Phoenix public schools

The CDC says there are several ways schools can help address the problem of poor mental health among students, including linking students to mental health services, supporting staff mental health and building safe and supportive environments.

Here are a few of the services available to students and staff in some school districts across the Valley:

Dysart Unified School District: Each campus is served by a nurse or health services assistant and a social worker. In addition, academic counselors are available on high school campuses. For staff, the district offers wellness activities to support their health needs and an employee assistance program.

Kyrene Elementary School District: For students, the district has counselors to support students at every campus, a resource that was made possible in recent years as part of a budget reallocation process. For staff, Kyrene began offering a free subscription to the Calm app, a mindfulness library with materials to reduce stress, increase focus and achieve balance.

Mesa Unified School District: The district has a therapy program called Paws & Peers that provides trained dogs that offer emotional support, stress relief and comfort to children and adults at elementary, junior high and high schools. The district offers students and staff many resources, including social and emotional support services and a webpage that lists community resources.

Phoenix Union High School District: The district has hired Erika Collins-Frazier and Cailene Pisciotta, two full-time therapists and mediators, called employee wellness specialists, for staff to consult. The two professionals also offer referrals to outside mental health providers through the district’s employee assistance program and several other agencies in the community that serve adults.

The district employs 35 full-time social workers that provide ongoing mental health support for students. Phoenix Union also partners with different community-based mental health agencies and refers students and families to them for cognitive and behavioral health treatment and services.

Tempe Elementary School District: The district has a counselor and a psychologist at every school campus as well as access to social workers. Tempe Elementary also provides trained crisis response teams during stressful events, offers free employee assistance program services for staff and has partnerships with agencies such as Tempe’s Care7 crisis response team, Southwest Behavioral Health and Terros Health. The district also has a page on its website with resources for parents and staff.

Suicide, crisis hotlines for Arizonans

Suicide is a public health issue. If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available.

  • Dial 2-1-1 at any time to reach the free 2-1-1 Arizona information and referral service and connect with free resources available locally throughout the state.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 in English and 1-888-628-9454 in Spanish. It’s free and confidential for those in distress who need prevention or crisis resources for themselves or loved ones.
  • Solari Crisis & Human Services offers a free, statewide crisis line 24/7/365 – dial 844-534-HOPE (4673). Help is also available 24/7/365 via text by texting “hope” to 4HOPE (4673).
  • La Frontera Empact Suicide Prevention Center’s crisis line serves Maricopa and Pinal counties 24/7 at 480-784-1500.
  • Teen Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis line serves teens at 602-248-8336 for Maricopa County and 1-800-248-8336 statewide.
  • The Trevor Project Lifeline serves LGBTQ youth at 866-488-7386 or by texting START to 678-678.

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