Survey of Virginia students finds alarming rates of anxiety, suicidal thoughts

More students considered suicide and more teachers quit their jobs. A look at Virginia’s education system post-COVID-19 is filled of disturbing numbers.

If you have middle or high students in Virginia, chances are they, or one of their friends contemplated suicide over the last year. That’s the finding of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which carried out an audit at the request of the Virginia General Assembly to find out how things are going post-pandemic.

One of its most disturbing findings related to the mental health of Virginia students. Half of middle schoolers and two-thirds of high school students said they felt nervous, anxious or on edge over the past year, and for some, that anxiety manifested into thoughts of suicide.

Ten percent of middle schoolers and 13% of high schoolers said they had contemplated suicide during the 2021-2022 school year. Even more alarming is that 3% of middle schoolers and 4% of high schoolers said they had attempted suicide at least once over the year. Most of them were women.

A majority of Virginia high school students surveyed said they had felt nervous, anxious or on edge. (Courtesy JLARC)

Chronic absenteeism also spiked during the 2021-2022 school year. Twenty percent of students missed 10% or more of the school year, double the pre-pandemic rate.

But it’s not just students who are feeling the stresses of the pandemic: Teachers are, too. For many, things are bad enough they are leaving their jobs.

Twelve percent more teachers left their jobs in Virginia over the last academic year than in the years preceding the pandemic.

To quantify the numbers — before the pandemic, there were 800 vacant teaching positions statewide. As of August 2022, that number is closer to 3,300.

Another 15% of Virginia’s teachers say they are leaving or likely to leave their jobs over the next year, blaming student behavioral issues, higher workloads, low morale and lack of job satisfaction.

There aren’t enough teachers coming into the field to replace them. The number of new teachers coming into the field is down 15% from the pre-pandemic average. Of those who are applying for teaching jobs, school districts say the majority are not quality candidates.

So, what’s the fix?

The commission made a number of recommendations to encourage expanding the availability of counseling services in schools through more partnerships with mental health providers in local communities.

It also recommended the state provide temporary funding to boost teacher recruitment and retention.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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