5 Things to Know from the 2022-2023 Youth Survey

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Young people in our community report noticeably lower rates of mental health concerns compared to the prior year, according to the 2022-2023 Fairfax County Youth Survey. The rates for suicidal ideations and suicide attempts are the lowest reported in the past seven years. Overall, youth in Fairfax County report prevalence rates near historic lows for risky behaviors, including substance use, sexual activity and aggressive and delinquent behavior. However, there remain some challenges as well.

In addition to shedding light on students’ behaviors and experiences, the survey (which has been in place for 22 years) identifies ways that you can actively help teens succeed and avoid or reduce risk behaviors.


1. Mental Health Concerns Trend Down from Last Year

Depressive symptoms (defined as feeling so sad or hopeless that the student stops engaging in regular activity for two weeks or more) were reported by 29 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students. The rates have been on a gradual rise since 2015 when 26 percent of students reported feeling sad or hopeless. The 2022 rate was a decrease from 38 percent in 2021 and similar to the 2018 rate (28 percent).

Nearly one third of sixth-grade students (29 percent) reported feeling sadness or hopelessness at this level, a decrease from 33 percent in 2021. Eleven percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including 12 percent of female students and 8 percent of male students. Four percent of the students reported attempting suicide in the past year, including 5 percent of female students and 3 percent of male students. These rates were not only lower than the peaks in 2021 when over 16 percent of the students reported suicidal ideations and 6 percent reported attempting suicide in the past year, but also the lowest reported since 2015 when the questions were added to the survey.


2. Substance Use Reaches Historic Lows Among Fairfax County Youth

The reported rates of alcohol and substance use among Fairfax County youth were the lowest since 2015 for all substances, including alcohol, marijuana, synthetic marijuana, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, vaping, non-medical use of painkillers, nonmedical use of other prescription drugs, non-medical over the counter drugs, LSD, cocaine/crack, ecstasy, methamphetamine and heroin. 

Fairfax County youth also reported lower rates of use than those reported nationally for most substances assessed on the survey. Rates of use among Fairfax County students were less than half the national rates for the past month use of alcohol, marijuana, vaping, inhalant use, LSD or other hallucinogens, cocaine or crack, ecstasy, steroids, heroin and cigarettes. Alcohol was the most commonly used substance by Fairfax County youth both in their lifetime (20 percent) and in the past month (8 percent), followed by vaping (11 percent for lifetime, 5 percent for past month) and marijuana (8 percent for lifetime, 4 percent for past month).


3. Physical Activity and Amount of Sleep Improve from Last Year

More than one third of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students (39 percent) and less than half of sixth-grade students (45 percent) indicated that they were physically active for at least one hour per day on five or more days in the past week. The rates were higher than last year for both younger and older students.

Less than one third of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students (31 percent) reported sleeping eight or more hours on an average school night, an increase from the lowest rate reported in 2021 at 28 percent. A larger percentage of male students (36 percent) reported sleeping eight or more hours, compared to 28 percent of female students.


4. Extracurricular and Volunteer Activity Participation Still Lower than Pre-pandemic Levels

More than 41 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students reported participating in extracurricular activities at school for at least an hour on an average school day. Forty percent reported participating in activities away from school at this level. The 2022 rates increased from the lowest points in 2021 but not yet to the pre-pandemic levels.

Over half of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students (52 percent) reported volunteering to do community service in the past year, an increase from 46 percent in 2021. The rates for volunteer activities ranged between 62 percent and 66 percent before the pandemic (2015-2019).


5. Most Students Feel Safe at School and Supported at Home

The Youth Survey examines assets or protective factors within the school, community and family life that promote well-being and positive development. According to the findings, the majority of the eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students reported feeling safe at their school (82 percent), having opportunities to talk to their teacher one-on-one (78 percent) and having teachers who notice if they do a good job (62 percent).

Many students reported having assets in their families, as well, including having parents available for help (85 percent) and family members who respect each other (75 percent).


Survey Background

Since 2001, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board have co-sponsored the Youth Survey, which helps monitor behavior trends and changes among our youth and provides crucial information to help prioritize the focus for prevention and youth development efforts throughout the community. It is an anonymous and voluntary survey given each year to Fairfax County Public Schools students in grades 8, 10 and 12 (sixth graders take a modified, shorter survey).

The survey was administered in the fall of 2022 online. The survey was offered in eight languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese.

A total of 27,814 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students participated, representing 64.7 percent of enrolled students. A total of 11,384 sixth-grade students participated in the sixth-grade survey, representing 84.9 percent of enrolled students. In 2020, the Fairfax County Youth Survey was not administered due to COVID-19.


Three to Succeed

Three to Succeed is the notion that the presence of three or more positive, protective factors in a student’s life can lead to making better choices, engaging in healthier habits and managing stress in a positive manner. Three to Succeed identifies opportunities for youth and adults to build upon protective factors. A few of these protective factors include:

  • Having high personal integrity.
  • Performing community service.
  • Having teachers recognize good work.
  • Having community adults to talk to.
  • Participating in extracurricular activities.
  • Having parents available for help.

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