New survey reveals how Utah students are weathering the COVID-19 pandemic

Students take notes in Mallory Record’s Advanced
Placement government and comparative politics class at Jordan High
School in Sandy on March 10. The latest results of
a survey of some 71,000 Utah schoolchildren suggests one third of
students reported the coronavirus pandemic made them feel anxious,
sad — even hopeless.

Students take notes in Mallory Record’s Advanced Placement government and comparative politics class at Jordan High School in Sandy on March 10. The latest results of a survey of some 71,000 Utah schoolchildren suggests one third of students reported the coronavirus pandemic made them feel anxious, sad — even hopeless. (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The latest results of a survey of some 71,000 Utah schoolchildren suggests one third of students reported the coronavirus pandemic made them feel anxious, sad — even hopeless.

Among high school seniors, nearly 43% reported those emotional impacts due to COVID-19.

The results also revealed that across the surveyed grades, 27.3% of students reported they had been sick with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms. The percentage was as high as 30% among 12th graders.

Those are just two findings in the 2021 Student Health and Risk Prevention survey or SHARP survey released Friday. The survey is administered every other year to students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12 in most public schools. This year, students in 40 of Utah's 41 school districts participated in the survey, which requires parental permission.

The report states that the pandemic affected the number of students who took the survey. Around 85,000 to 90,000 completed the 2019 survey, compared to the 71,000 this year.

Other findings attributed to the coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms suggest some students had challenges accessing online learning. For some, the pandemic resulted in more fighting in their households. Forty-four percent reported experiencing none of the challenges on the survey.

Among students who reported impacts:

  • 13.4% reported they had difficulty keeping up with school work because they didn't have access to a reliable computer or internet service. That was highest among 10th graders at 16.4%.
  • 14.9% reported people in their homes were fighting a lot, a number that exceeded 17% among high schoolers, at 17.5% among 10th graders and 17.6% for high school seniors.

With respect to safety net questions such as housing, food insecurity and changes in employment status, all responses were below 10%.

Specifically,

  • 1.7% skipped one or more meals because their family didn't have enough money to buy food, although the number topped 2% among 10th and 12th graders.
  • 6.7% of people living in students' homes lost their jobs.
  • 2.4% reported they had to move or change homes as a result of the pandemic.

Related:

The survey, which has been conducted in the spring of odd-numbered years since 2003, also spotlighted issues of mental health in general.

The percentage of students who reported they contemplated suicide, planned to take their lives or attempted continues to increase. Across all age groups surveyed, the percentage of students who had seriously considered attempting suicide rose to 17.5% in 2021 from 16.4% in 2019. Suicide ideation was highest among 10th graders at 20%.

"This is a trend that's been going on for 10 years that we're seeing an increase in suicidal ideation or thoughts planning or attempts. The big thing that I want to note is that ... attempted suicide in the past 12 months has stayed stable," said Susannah Burt, prevention administrator with the Utah Department of Human Services.

Those reporting suicide attempts slightly decreased from 2017, which suggests the number is stable, she said.

"That is a huge thing to note that while we have seen an increase in thoughts or mental health issues, we are not seeing suicidal attempts," Burt said.

When students feel very sad, hopeless or suicidal, nearly 44% said they talked to their friends about it, 40% talked to no one and nearly 34% talked to a parent, although there have been considerable declines over time of students talking to their parents.

Among 8th graders, the percentage of students who talk to their parents when they feel very sad, hopeless or suicidal declined 14.7% between 2019 and 2021 surveys, dropping from 43% to 28.3%. The percentage of 6th graders talking to parents dropped 9.2% between 2019 and 2021.

There were very low percentages of students who reported talking to clergy, dropping from 5% in 2019 to 2% in 2021.

Another interesting finding, was that a slightly lower number of students said it was OK to talk to a professional counselor, therapist or doctor when feeling very sad, hopeless or suicidal, dropped from 85% to 83.2% between 2019 and 2021.

There was a slight increase of respondents who said it was OK for others to seek help but not themselves, rising to 14.4% in 2021 from 12.1% in 2019.

Burt said one hypothesis is that students may not have wanted "to make anyone's burden heavier" during the pandemic.

Prevention experts say the results point out the importance of parents, counselors and others being able to guide their children or students to resources that can help those who are struggling.

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Marjorie Cortez

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