Maryland youth survey: Rise in mental health issues during pandemic, decline in substance abuse

A new survey by the Maryland Department of Health shows a decrease in substance abuse issues among the state’s youth between 2021 and 2022 while. At the same time, there was also an increase in mental health challenges due to the pandemic.

The Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey and Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted in the fall of 2021, involved close to 60,000 students in 366 public middle and high schools. It also looked at COVID-19 screen time, mental health status and other “adverse childhood” experiences.

According to the survey, “more than one-third of middle (37%) and high school (39%) students reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks or more within the past year.”

When asked about mental health, 29% of high school students and 23% of middle school students surveyed said their mental health was “not good most of the time or always.”

Among the students who reported having mental health issues, the majority were females. Also, the survey found that students identifying as LGBTQ+ were more likely to report at-risk behaviors.

While the survey showed an overall decrease in high school students using tobacco products, alcohol and marijuana, there was an increase in middle schoolers consuming alcohol for the first time and misusing prescription drugs.

Middle school students misusing prescription drugs increased from 7% in 2012 to 12% in 2021. The number of middle schoolers who reported consuming alcohol for the first time before age 11 was up slightly from 9% in 2018 to 10% in 2021, according to the survey.

“While we see some encouraging results, there is clear data indicating a need for continued comprehensive approaches to support mental health and limit tobacco, alcohol, and drug use,” said MDH Secretary Dr. Laura Herrera Scott.

“Now that students have returned to schools after navigating arduous challenges heightened by the pandemic, we can address findings through youth-centered health programming, education and outreach.”

The full results of the survey can be found on the MDH website.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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