Tompkins Parents: What Our Teens Are Telling Us

More than 40 percent of middle and high school students surveyed in Tompkins County in 2021 said they felt depressed or sad on most days.

The concerning finding is in line with other survey data showing that high percentages of Tompkins youth also felt that they were a “failure” and “no good at all,” and that “life is not worth it.”

Other troubling findings were those indicating that high percentages of youth identifying as “other gender identity” and of Black girls report depression and low self-esteem.

The Community-Level Youth Development Evaluation (CLYDE) surveyed Tompkins County students in grades 7-12. It was organized by the Community Coalition for Healthy Youth, which represents agencies, schools, government, businesses, families, and concerned citizens in Tompkins County. Detailed results can be viewed on the Youth Development Dashboard for Tompkins County.

In responding to the question, “In the past year, have you felt depressed or sad MOST days, even if you felt okay sometimes?,” 41.4 percent of the respondents answered “Yes.”

According to the survey, 38.5 percent said that “sometimes I think that life is not worth it,” 48.2 percent agreed with the statement that “at times I think I am no good at all,” and 30.7 percent said they “are inclined to think that I am a failure.”

There were sharp variances by gender, race, and ethnicity, raising particular concerns about the mental health of youth identifying as “other gender identity” and Black girls.

According to the survey, 69.4 percent of those identifying as “other gender identity,” 63.3 percent of Black girls, 50.5 percent of all American Indian youth, 50.4 percent of all Black youth, 49.2 percent of all girls, and 45.8 percent of all Hispanic youth, signaled depression or sadness; compared to 29.4 percent of all boys.

The survey showed that 71.2 percent of all other gender identities, 60.2 percent of Black girls, 46 percent of all girls, 44.8 percent of all Black youth, 44.1 percent of all American Indian youth, and 40.4 of all Hispanic youth had felt life was not worth it; compared to 26.3 percent of all boys.

Similarly, 76 percent of all other gender identities, 63.6 percent of Black girls, 56.6 percent of all girls, 51.5 percent of all American Indian youth, 51.1 percent of all Black youth, and 50.8 percent of all Hispanic youth felt they were not good at all; compared to 35.7 percent of all boys.

The results indicated that more 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students experienced feelings of depression and hopelessness. For example, 47.9 percent of seniors reported feeling depressed or sad most days, and 41.9 percent that life was not worth it; compared to 36.1 percent and 32.3 percent, respectively, for 7th graders.

Overall, the results signaled a consistently escalating spike in all four mental health measures used in the survey over the past decade. The percentage of students reporting depression or sadness jumped from 28.7 percent in 2012 to 41.4 percent in 2021. The percentage of students feeling life was not worth it went from 21.3 percent in 2012 to 38.5 percent in 2021.

The CLYDE survey recorded other behavior traits such as prevalence of alcohol and drug use. It found that 30.1 percent of 7-12 grade students had consumed alcoholic beverages in their lifetimes, with the figure rising to 51.7 percent among 12th graders. Just 16.4 percent of respondents said they had used marijuana, although the figure was more double that at 37.4 percent for high school seniors.

The survey said that 4.4 percent reported use of opiate pain relievers without a doctor’s orders. There was virtually no reporting of heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine use, but 3.8 percent of respondents reported use of hallucinogens; the figure was again higher for high school seniors, at 9.5 percent.

The survey showed that 8.7 percent of students had smoked a cigarette, but only 3.3 percent had done so in the past 30 days. Seniors’ lifetime use was 17.3 percent, with 7.9 percent saying they had smoked in the past month.

The figures were higher for vaping. Overall, 14.9 percent of students said they had smoked nicotine e-cigarettes, including 9.1 percent in the past 30 days. For 12th graders, it was 30.2 percent and 18.9 percent, respectively. The survey found that 10.8 percent of students had vaped using marijuana, 5.6 percent in the past month. For seniors, it was 24.3 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively.

The survey identified youth risk factors, including low commitment to school, family conflict, favorable attitudes toward antisocial behavior, and favorable parental attitudes toward drug use. Protective factors included social skills, opportunities and rewards for prosocial involvement, family attachment, and belief in the moral order.

Looking for help? DOWNLOAD the 2023 Mental Health Support and Crisis Services guide for Tompkins County

Brandi Remington, Youth Development Coordinator for TST-BOCES, said the CLYDE survey marked the first time that consolidated county data on youth behavior is directly available to the public through an online dashboard.

“We hope this dashboard will be viewed by parents and caregivers, school personnel, social services staff, and the students themselves,” Remington said. “A well informed community is in the best position to make positive and equitable changes in how we raise, educate, and involve our youth so they become successful citizens.”

According to survey developer Catalyst Insight, LLC, its surveys collect current data on youth substance use prevalence, developmental risk and protective factors, and other key community characteristics. Its says that the results are intended to be used for community assessment, coalition and community capacity building, program planning, and evaluation purposes. The data gathered through CLYDE can be leveraged to change norms and practices that will improve overall community health over time, it says.

Nearly 3,700 students in Tompkins County’s seven school districts participated in the CLYDE survey, conducted in October 2021 and released in June 2022. Its mental health findings track with the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2011-2021 issued on February 13, 2023 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the CDC survey of students in grades 9-12, 42 percent of American high schoolers reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in the previous 12 months. The survey, which broke down the data by sex, race, and ethnicity, raised a particular alarm about the mental health of teen girls.

It found that 57 percent of female teens reported feeling sad or hopeless, a significant increase from 2011 when the figure was 36 percent. The rate for girls was also twice the 29 percent of boys reporting those feelings.

The CLYDE survey did not include questions about sexual violence or suicide. But the CDC report found a rise in sexual assault against teen girls, and very concerning levels of suicidal behaviors among girls. It said that in 2021, 14 percent of girls reported being forced to have sexual intercourse. Between 2011 and 2021, the percentage of girls who seriously considered attempting suicide went from 19 percent to 30 percent in 2021; for boys, the figure went from 13 percent to 14 percent.

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.