In the mind of the Utah teenager, from drug addiction to COVID-19


SALT LAKE CITY – From substance use to cyberbullying, a new investigation gives insight into the minds of Utah’s teens.

The Student Health and Risk Prevention Survey (SHARP) is conducted every two years among students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. Teens are asked a wide variety of questions about mental health, suicide, vaping, smoking, alcohol use, how much time they spend on their phones, and even how long they sleep.

This year, more than 70,000 students participated statewide in 40 of Utah’s 41 public school districts. The responses are anonymous.

What the Utah Division of Addiction and Mental Health (part of the Utah Department of Human Services) and the Utah Department of Health found out is that consuming tobacco, alcohol, vaping and illicit drugs have declined. But mental health issues among Utah’s youth have increased, including suicidal ideation and attempts.

“It’s a trend that’s been going on for 10 years, we’ve seen an increase in ideas, thoughts, planning or attempts,” said Susannah Burt of the Addiction and Mental Health Division.

Hispanic or Latin youth have seen their mental health needs increase, and LGBTQ youth are said to be at higher risk for suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, data shows.

Burt has noted an increase in the number of students who have chosen not to tell anyone about their mental health, which they want more resources to be spent.

“These are students who don’t tell anyone about their emotions and we want to continue to de-stigmatize that,” Burt said.

Bullying has also increased, especially online, the SHARP investigation revealed.

“Knowing that we have seen more students online in the past year than before, we would expect to see a little more negative effects from screens or be more online,” Burt told reporters. .

The SHARP survey found that nearly 40% of sixth graders and 80% of 12th graders slept less than eight hours per night. And a lot of students spend time on electronic devices for things other than schoolwork. About 60% of sixth graders reported spending two or more hours per day on a phone, tablet, laptop or other electronic device. For 12th grade students? It’s 87%.

This year, the survey focused on COVID-19. Statewide, 27% of students in all classes studied reported contracting COVID-19 or related symptoms. Almost 7% of them knew someone who lost their job; almost 2% said they were hungry because their family could not afford to eat; nearly 15% had increased family problems caused by the pandemic; and 33% said they felt “anxious, sad or desperate” because of COVID-19. The numbers were most pronounced among Hispanic / Pacific Islander youth, according to the SHARP survey.

“COVID is having a significant impact on our children,” Janae Duncan of the Utah Department of Health said in response to the SHARP investigation. “We want to continue to monitor what that impact might be in the long term and make sure that we are helping children regain healthy behaviors, healthy relationships and ensure they are supported at home, in their schools and in their communities. “

But Duncan found some reason to be optimistic about the results, including the resilience of Utah’s youth.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see our trends continue,” she said.

The results of the SHARP survey can inform policy. It will be used to show decision makers where to put resources in place to help young people and their families.

Read the SHARP survey here:

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting If you prefer text messaging, simply send the word “HELLO” to 741-741 for free, confidential emotional support.

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