Fewer Fairfax Co. students experiencing mental health concerns, annual survey finds

Fewer Fairfax County Public School students reported experiencing mental health concerns last year than in the year prior, according to the county’s annual Youth Survey.

The voluntary, anonymous survey polls thousands of middle and high school students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. In 2022, over 11,000 sixth graders and over 27,000 eighth, 10th and 12th-graders participated, the county said.

Daryl Washington, executive director of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, said at a recent Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services committee meeting that “across the board with stress, depressive symptoms, considering suicide and attempting suicide, they’re all down from the 2021 figures, which were high.”

In 2022, 28.9% of students reported symptoms of depression, down from 38.1% in 2021. That metric had increased every year since 2016, according to county data. The percentage of students who said they experienced high stress also dropped from nearly 30% in 2021 to 23.5% in 2022.

The promising trends come as Virginia’s largest school system and county leaders are working to help students in the aftermath of the pandemic. The school system, for one, has offered free virtual mental health sessions to high schoolers, an initiative school leaders have publicly said they want to expand.

“There’s obviously still work to be done there,” Washington said. “But having those numbers dropping down from the 2021 numbers is definitely a positive sign.”

However, Washington said, LGBTQ+ students have a “really high risk level” for feeling sad or hopeless and for suicidal ideations or attempts compared to the rest of the population.

The Fairfax County students who participated in the survey had lower rates of substance use than students nationally for most of the substances listed on the survey, Washington said. Over 7% of eighth, 10th and 12th-grade students reported consuming alcohol in the last month. The national average is more than 15%.

More than 5% of students reported vaping in the last month, and 4% reported marijuana use, the survey found.

Maintaining the trend is pivotal, Washington said, because “if you have a youth that has a mental health issue and is using substances, they are at a significant, higher risk than individuals that are not using substances.”

Nearly 25% of students who said they used a substance also reported seriously considering suicide in the prior year, the survey said.

Separately, 82% of eighth, 10th and 12th-graders said they felt safe at their school.

The full youth survey report is available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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