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2023 Healthy Youth Survey results: Celebrating successes, preparing for the work ahead of us

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Home » 2023 Healthy Youth Survey results: Celebrating successes, preparing for the work ahead of us

Every two years, people across Washington eagerly await the results of the latest Healthy Youth Survey. For those of us working in prevention and public health, we often find ourselves holding our breath until we know if certain data points went up or down in the direction we hope. Some years, we find ourselves wondering whether we should celebrate or weep. This was one of those years.

The 2023 data looks fantastic in some ways. It tells the story of 10th grade past 30-day cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco use either going down or remaining steady compared to previous years. Yet, at the same time, when we look at certain vulnerable populations like BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of color) or LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual) youth, disabled youth, or youth in lower socioeconomic standing, we see higher rates of use. Even among the general statewide population, the rate of use for these substances is too high when we consider the long-term consequences of substance use on the developing brain and the risk of harm that comes from using alcohol, cannabis, or tobacco at any age.

Another finding that tempts us to celebrate is that significantly fewer 10th graders report feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge than in previous years. However, we also realize that far too many youth are suffering as nearly 62% of 10th graders and nearly 67% of 12th graders do report feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge. These rates are even higher among females and LGBTQ+ youth.

This year, we also saw a significant decrease across all grade levels for thoughts of suicide. In fact, the data from 2023 shows the lowest rate of suicide ideation in twenty years, at 15% of 10th graders considered suicide in the past 12 months. We saw a significant decrease in the percentage of 10th graders who report depressive feelings too. In 2018, 40% of 10th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless and in 2023 this dropped to 30%. It is great to see this trending downward, but too concerning to see such high numbers of our kids struggling with mental health. Can we truly celebrate only 15% of our kids thinking about suicide and only 30% of our kids feeling sad or hopeless? Can we celebrate these low rates for the general population when we see disparities among LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth?

The good news is these survey results show improvements and that gives us hope for even more improvements in the future. We know there are strategies families and other influential adults can follow to protect youth. Spending time with your teens, monitoring who they hang out with and where they go when not at home, and setting clear, consistent, and realistic boundaries are great ways to keep your teen substance free. This week is National Prevention Week, and the perfect time to explore ways all of us can better support the young people in our lives. For more information, check out the content on our website and follow us on Facebook