HELENA -  The Office of Public Instruction reported on Friday that Montana’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows a sharp increase in the number of students who report symptoms of depression and mental health concerns.

“Montana must listen to our students’ voices expressing last school year’s challenges, which are reflected in the data gathered from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” Superintendent Elsie Arntzen said.  “We encourage our 825 schools to use this information to focus on suicide prevention, school safety, and support for students to address substance abuse and mental health topics within their own school plans.”

According to the survey, during the past year:

  • Over 41% of high school students reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness for two or more weeks in a row (30% males; 53% females).
  • In the 30 days before the survey, 32% of students reported that their mental health was not good most of the time or always. Females were more likely than males to experience poor mental health, including stress, anxiety, and depression (41% females, 22% males).
  • Among suicide ideation questions, 22% of students considered suicide, 18% made a plan, and 10% attempted suicide. Among students who attempted suicide, 32% had an attempt that required medical treatment.

The survey also shows that more students report:

  • Texting or e-mailing while driving (57%) and
  • Using the Internet or apps on their cell phone while driving (52%) than in previous survey years.

Survey results also reveal improving or steady trends in many health risk behaviors, including those involved with sexual behaviors, nutrition and dietary behaviors, and physical activity.

  • While physical activity trends remained steady, sedentary behavior trends indicate that nearly 72% of students reported spending three or more hours on “screen time” per day.
  • Tobacco use by students saw a decrease among all tobacco products. In the 30 days prior to the survey, 7% of students smoked a cigarette, 26% used an electronic vapor product, 5% used smokeless tobacco, and 5% smoked cigars, cigarillos, or little cigars.
  • Alcohol use (31%) and marijuana use (20%) within the past 30 days are also on a downward trend from previous survey years.

The voluntary, self-reporting student survey has been conducted biennially since 1991 by the Office of Public Instruction.  For the first time in 30 years, the survey occurred during a pandemic and saw the Montana results attained by 100% of randomly sampled schools.  Statewide, over 98% of districts participated in the 2021 survey which was administered late last winter.

The survey asks questions that fall into six topic areas that have been found to result in morbidity or mortality:  unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors, nutrition and dietary behaviors, and physical activity.

The full report 2021 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey is located HERE.