Mental health issues (such as persistent sadness/hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts), physical activity, amount of sleep and fasting are among the issues that influenced the health and wellbeing of Fairfax County youth in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the annual Fairfax County Youth Survey. In addition to shedding light on students’ behaviors and experiences, the survey also identifies ways that you can actively help teens succeed and avoid or reduce risky behaviors.
Overall, youth in Fairfax County report prevalence near historic lows for risk behaviors including substance use, sexual activity and aggressive and delinquent behavior. However, there remain some challenges as well.
Five top takeaways from the 2021-2022 Youth Survey:
1.) Mental Health Concerns Arise Among Youth in Fairfax County
Depressive symptoms (defined as feeling so sad or hopeless that the student stops engaging in regular activity for two weeks) were reported by 38.1% of eighth-, tenth- and twelfth-grade students. The percentage of students reporting this level of sadness has increased steadily since 2016, with a substantial increase this year (29.9% in 2019 to 38.1% in 2021). One third of sixth-grade students (33.1%) reported feeling sadness or hopelessness at this level. In addition, over 16% (16.5%) reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including 21.3% of female students and 10.9% of male students. Six percent of the students (6.3%) reported attempting suicide in the past year, including 8.4% of female students and 3.9% of male students.
2.) Alcohol Use and Vaping Remain Common, Though Down from Previous Years
Among all substance use behaviors, alcohol use and vaping were most common. A little over 10% of the eighth-, tenth- and twelfth-grade students (10.1%) reported drinking alcohol within a 30-day period. The rates for past month alcohol use declined from 15.2% in 2019. Almost 8% (7.9%) reported vaping in the past month. In 2019, the rate for vaping was 15.1%. This year-over-year change should be interpreted with caution as it requires more time to establish longer-term trends to determine meaningful patterns.
3.) Physical Activity and Amount of Sleep Continue to Decrease
About 37% of the students (36.8%) reported being physically active for at least one hour on five or more days in the past week, with nearly half of male students (44.3%) and fewer than one-third (30.3%) of female students. The percentage of students who reported physical activities at this level continued to decrease from 41.8% in 2015. Less than 30% of the students (28.3%) reported sleeping eight or more hours on an average school night. A larger percentage of male students (32.0%) reported sleeping eight or more hours, compared to 24.9% of female students. The 2021 rate was the lowest ever reported since 2010.
4.) More Students Report Fasting to Lose Weight than Before
Over eleven percent of students (11.2%) reported going without eating for 24 hours or more in order to lose weight in the past month, with over twice as many female students (15.2%) reporting the behavior compared to male students (6.6%). This is the highest rate recorded since 2015 and an increase of three percentage points from the 2019 rate.
5.) Most Students Feel Safe and Supported at School
The Fairfax County Youth Survey examines assets or protective factors within the school, community and family domains that promote well-being and positive development in youth. According to the findings, the majority of the eighth-, tenth- and twelfth-grade students reported assets in the school domain including feeling safe at their school (83.9%), having opportunities to talk their teacher one-one-one (78.2%) and having teachers who notice if they do a good job (60.1%).
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 2021-2022 Fairfax County Youth Survey was administered in the fall of 2021. In 2021, the Youth Survey was conducted online for the first time. The survey was offered in eight languages for the first time as well: Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, Korean, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese.
A total of 33,479 eighth-, tenth- and twelfth-grade students participated, representing 76.1% of enrolled students. A total of 11,069 sixth grade students participated in the sixth grade survey, representing 82.6% of enrolled students. In 2020, the Fairfax County Youth Survey was not administered due to COVID-19; the 2021 survey is the first Youth Survey since the pandemic started.
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. 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.