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Girls, as well as Black and Hispanic youth, report worsening mental health, CT school survey finds

A newly released School Health Survey shows Black high schoolers in Connecticut reported higher risk of suicide ideation and more Hispanic students said they felt "sad" and "hopeless."
Elena Medvedeva
iStockphoto / Getty Images
A newly released School Health Survey shows Black high schoolers in Connecticut reported higher risk of suicide ideation and more Hispanic students said they felt "sad" and "hopeless."

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A note to readers: This story addresses youth suicide. 

Connecticut’s School Health Survey for 2021 is out, and echoes national research showing worsening mental health among teens. Compared to 16% of male students, 41% of female students in grades 9 through 12 reported that their mental health was not good “most of the time” or “always.”

And 43% of Hispanic/Latino youth in high school reported feeling “sad” or “hopeless,” more than any other demographic. Eighteen percent of Black youth also reported experiencing suicidal ideation.

Dr. Steven Rogers, director of emergency behavioral health services at Connecticut Children’s, said the disparities are likely the result of inadequate access to care and services based on racial, ethnic and cultural needs.

“We even are looking at our screening tools and trying to decide if they're measuring the risk of suicide appropriately across race and ethnicities, or do we need to develop other types of screens,” Rogers said.

Meanwhile, the survey shows an increase in students feeling sad or hopeless. In the 2021 survey, 36% of students reported feeling sad or hopeless — that's up from 24% a decade ago.

State lawmakers passed legislation last session to expand school-based mental health resources. But Sarah Eagan, Connecticut’s child advocate, worries that it’s going to take time to catch up with years of underfunding.

“This is our kids talking to us,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do to respond adequately.”

Three years ago, when Connecticut Children’s launched a universal mental health screening program at the ER, 15% of children screened positive for being at-risk of suicide, and other mental health crisis. . This year, Rogers expects rates of around 20%.

A dedicated unit has a capacity of up to around 18 beds, but the facility is seeing upwards of 50 patients a day.

“We are trying to build a bigger team of mental health providers including psychologists, a new department of psychiatry, and we are even opening a new med psych unit,” Rogers said.

The hospital is also placing behavioral health experts at pediatrician clinics statewide.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Suicide and Crisis Lifelineis 988.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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