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These Utah youth are disproportionately struggling with mental illness in 2021

A new survey from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health released Friday shows that two groups of Utah students are struggling with mental illness more than others: lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and Hispanic youth.

A new survey from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health released Friday shows that two groups of Utah students are struggling with mental illness more than others: lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and Hispanic youth. (Ivan Aleksic, Unsplash)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah youth took a collective mental health hit during the pandemic, but lesbian, gay and bisexual students and Hispanic or Latino students in particular are disproportionately struggling with mental illness. That's according to new Student Health and Risk Prevention data released by the State of Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Friday.

The survey, conducted every other year, was administered to 71,001 students across grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, in 40 out of the 41 school districts across the state. It is designed to assess mental health, substance use and protective factors in youth in order to connect the students with needed resources. It is a free, voluntary and anonymous survey that requires parent permission to be administered to students.

Around 83% of the students identified as heterosexual, and 75% of students surveyed were white. These majorities showed an increase in mental illness during 2021, but data from minority groups showed that lesbian, gay and bisexual students and Hispanic students reported much higher amounts of mental illness, especially during the pandemic.

According to the report, "Young people who are depressed are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are more likely to use drugs. Survey research and other studies have shown a link between depression and other youth problem behaviors."

Lesbian, gay and bisexual students

Although lesbian, gay and bisexual Utah students did not see a massive increase in mental illness compared to other groups, the well-documented mental health crisis for queer youth in the state doesn't appear to be going anywhere.

Over one-third of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth surveyed reported that there was increased family conflict in their homes during the pandemic. Twice as many queer students reported experiencing social isolation and being anxious, sad or hopeless because of issues related to the pandemic. Over 60% reported feeling anxious, sad or hopeless for two weeks or more during the previous year — more than double the state average.

These youth reported almost 40% more than the state average for symptoms of severe depression and almost three times the state average for suicidal ideation, or planning attempts and self-harm. The risk assessment portion showed that these youth had significantly less protection from risks in every category than the state average.

Hispanic students

About half of Hispanic students surveyed reported feeling sad, helpless or suicidal but didn't talk to anyone about it; that's 10% higher than the state average. Almost 10% said they didn't feel like it was OK to go to a professional to get help, as opposed to the 5% state average. One in five said that it was OK for other people to seek help, but not them, and around 44% reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks in a row during the previous year — significantly higher than the state average.

Around 32% of Hispanic students reported the highest need for mental health treatment compared to other racial groups, and 10% more than white students.

They also reported the highest amount of job loss in their homes during the pandemic, as well as a higher rate of being affected by COVID-19. More Hispanic and Pacific Islander students reported lacking reliable internet access than any other racial group.

Cyberbullying

Susannah Burt, prevention administrator with the Utah Department of Human Services, explained that an overall slight increase in cyberbullying in 2021 was to be expected as more interactions moved online. Lesbian, gay and bisexual students and Hispanic students reported the highest amount of cyberbullying.

About half of lesbian, gay and bisexual students surveyed reported being cyberbullied during 2021. Queer students, bisexual students in particular, reported significantly higher rates of feeling unsafe in school settings. And while the reported amount of cyberbullying has stayed fairly steady, a larger portion of it appears to be directed at Hispanic and Latino youth.

Almost 29% of Hispanic youth reported being cyberbullied in 2021, an 8% increase from 2019 and the biggest racial group affected.

Students who are cyberbullied are more likely to consider suicide, Burt said, citing data that showed of the students who were cyberbullied four to five times, 68% considered suicide.

The good news

What Burt called "the wonderful party of the story" was that reported substance abuse in 2021 went down across the board, in almost all categories and among all age groups.

The data can be viewed on the Utah Department of Human Services website.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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