SEATTLE – A new survey of Washington youth shows a steady use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs among kids, but state health officials are concerned about the number of teens who feel sad, hopeless or suicidal.
About 9 percent of 10th-graders say they tried to commit suicide in the past year, according to the Healthy Youth Survey released Tuesday.
“Nine percent is about where it’s been, but that’s a horrible number,” said Tim Church, spokesman for the state Department of Health, which along with a coalition of other state agencies conducts the survey every two years.
Fifteen percent of 12th-graders and 17 percent of 10th-graders said they had seriously considered suicide during the past year, and about 30 percent of both groups said feelings of hopelessness had kept them away from some regular activities.
About 200,000 Washington public high school students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 participated in the anonymous written survey. The information gathered helps with planning and evaluating youth programs around the state.
The questions cover all kinds of health issues from exercise to guns to drug abuse, and the data is adjusted to take into consideration that some children may not be entirely honest, Church said.
The survey found seat belt use is another number that hasn’t changed in the past two years. About 70 percent of 10th-graders say they wear their seat belts every time.
“That’s just too low,” Church said, comparing the statistic to the number of adults who wear their seat belts all the time, which is more than 90 percent.
Since 2000, tobacco use has dropped across all age groups – about 20 percent of 12th-graders and 7 percent of eighth-graders report smoking cigarettes – but Church said state officials continue to explore ways to push the numbers down.
Since the last statewide health survey was done two years ago, Smoking went down slightly among sixth-graders and so did drinking.
Officials had recently noticed an increase in teen use of flavored cigarettes as well as smoking tobacco using a hookah water pipe.
“We know it’s a changing area, and we’re going to have to change with it in terms of our preventative work,” Church said.
The numbers of high school kids using drugs or alcohol has remained steady over the past few years. More than 40 percent of high school seniors say they drink alcohol, including a quarter of all 12th-graders who report binge drinking.
State officials expressed concern that heavy drinking among high school students remains a problem and many young people are unaware of the danger of underage drinking and drug use.
“The perception of harm is not there,” said Deb Schnellman, spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.
The survey showed that many young people are getting alcohol and drugs at home, with or without parental permission, and kids say their parents have not discussed the danger of drug or alcohol use.
“The message is still: Parents are the No. 1 influence. They need to talk to teens,” she said, adding that parents should monitor what alcohol and prescription drugs they have in their homes and keep it locked up or disposed of properly.
The survey looked at teen gambling for the first time this year and found that about 3 percent of high school seniors believe gambling was causing problems for them at home or at school.
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