Survey: More Minnesota students struggling with mental health than ever

The newly released results from a survey of Minnesota students show that more are struggling with mental health issues than ever before.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released the findings of the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey on Friday.

The survey started back in 1989 and happens every three years. This year, more than 135,000 students and 70% of districts completed the survey.

MDH says the results show healthier behaviors around commercial tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sexual activity. However, they also show unprecedented struggles with mental health and behavioral or emotional issues.

This year, 29% of students reported long-term mental health problems, up from 23% in 2019 and 18% in 2016. Of the students in eighth grade or higher who identified themselves as transgender, genderfluid, nonbinary, two spirit or unsure, that number spiked to 63% with long-term mental health, behavioral or emotional problems, MDH says.

“These results indicate the pandemic fueled and worsened ongoing trends of our teens reporting long-term mental health problems,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “It will take more research to know the interplay of all the factors, but it is clear that this is a crisis, and Minnesotans, lawmakers and families need to focus resources and attention in and outside of schools to give our children and their families the connections, supports, stable environments and opportunities they need for a sense of well-being about their lives and futures.”

The number of students reporting suicidal thoughts also saw an alarming increase. Leaders at the MDH say 28% of 11th-graders reported seriously considering suicide at some point in their lives, up from 24% in 2019. Again, the numbers were even more troubling for LGBTQ+ students, who were around three times more likely to report seriously considering suicide and four times more likely to attempt it.

MDH said the good news from the survey is that student smoking rates fell to an all-time low across all grades. For reference, just 2% of ninth-graders reported smoking this year compared to 20% in 2001. Alcohol use, sexual activity and marijuana use also fell, according to the department.

While e-cigarette use still remains higher than health officials would like, MDH said 14% of 11th-graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days compared to 26% in 2019 and 17% in 2016. Among eighth-graders, numbers fell back to 6% from 11% in 2019.

Other notable and troubling findings from the survey include:

  • Only 60% of Minnesota students surveyed reported excellent or very good health compared to 65% in 2019 and 69% in the 2016 survey.
  • General health status deteriorated and was poorer for female students.
  • There was a notable increase in energy drink consumption, especially for female students.
  • Fruit and vegetable consumption declined for female students.
  • Students were not getting enough sleep, especially female students.
  • 83% of students say they feel safe at home, at school, in their neighborhood and going to and from school, down from 87% in 2019 and 90% in 2016.
  • 21% of students surveyed reported being bullied or harassed weekly in at least one way during the last 30 days. About 40% of economically disadvantaged students and 31% of LGBQ+ students reported higher rates of bullying.
  • Weekly bullying increased for students in all grades from 2019 to 2022, and cyberbullying increased among the lower grades.
  • Educational engagement continues to decrease for all students surveyed, including to 60% for 11th-graders compared to 75% in 2013.
  • Female students are missing school at higher rates than male students because they felt very sad, hopeless, anxious, stressed or angry.
  • Student feelings of being valued and appreciated decreased for all grade levels surveyed in 2022 compared to 2019.

“The Minnesota Student Survey continues to provide important data about how students are doing and highlights where we must focus our efforts to support them,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said. “This year’s survey reveals a clear picture of the continuing need to support student mental and behavioral health. The Department of Education is dedicated to working together with other educators, agencies, and our school communities to better meet the academic, mental health and behavioral health needs of our students so they can be successful in school and beyond.”

If you or a student you know needs free and confidential support, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. In addition, Minnesota’s suicide prevention and mental health crisis texting services are now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People who text 741741 will be connected to the Crisis Text Line.

Here is a list of suicide prevention and mental health resources:

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests you:

  • Ask questions about whether the individual is having suicidal thoughts.
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professional. If it is an emergency situation, take the person to a hospital.
  • Remove any objects from a person’s home that could be potentially used in a suicide.
  • Do not leave the person alone, if possible, until help is available.

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention organization has also compiled a list of resources to help with coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.