Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mental Health Improving Among NM High School Students

In 2009, fewer New Mexico high school students reported being injured by attempting suicide, according to a recent survey. The survey also found that they were less likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide. All of these measures have been on a downward trend since 2003.

The New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, conducted every other year by the New Mexico Department of Health and the Public Education Department, collects data self-reported by students from most of the 89 school districts in New Mexico. The survey was completed by 22,249 high school students and 23,628 middle school students. The survey asks students about mental health issues, substance use, physical activity and other behaviors.

A key component of the survey is the resiliency section that measures the protective factors that adolescents have, which include relationships with family, school, adults and peers, community involvement, life skills and constructive use of time. Youth who have good relationships with their parents, peers, teachers and adults in the community have better school outcomes and reduced risk behavior, including lower rates of suicide attempts. Students with low levels of caring and supportive relationships with parents were more likely than students with high levels to attempt suicide in the past 12 months (24.3 percent versus 4.9 percent).

“If adolescents trust and are connected to adults in their community, they are much more likely to be emotionally well and healthy,” said Yolanda Cordova, director of the Office of School and Adolescent Health and Substance Abuse Prevention. “Adults who promote protective factors with the youth in their lives help young people to develop resiliency.”

The biggest change between 2007 and 2009 was the percent of high school students reporting they had attempted suicide: 14.3 percent in 2007 and 9.7 percent in 2009. Those injured in a suicide attempt has gone down from 7.5 percent in 2003 to 5.1 percent in 2005, 4.8 percent in 2007 and 3.2 percent in 2009. About one-third of students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a figure that has fluctuated slightly over the years.

“We are glad these numbers are decreasing, but we are still concerned that we have too many children who consider suicide,” said Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, MD. “We encourage our young people to reach out to an adult they trust if they are struggling with emotional issues.”

Among the middle school students, almost 18 percent reported thinking about killing themselves, 11 percent made a plan to kill themselves and 6.8 percent tried to kill themselves. Girls had a higher rate than boys in each measure, and the prevalence of each behavior increased with grade level. For both high school and middle school, being bullied was associated with suicide attempts.

A new state law requires a health education class for graduation for all students (beginning with students entering the eighth grade in the 2012-2013 school year) that could help increase resiliency factors in youth so they can overcome risk factors around suicidal ideation and low self-esteem. The new class will address interrelationships of mental, emotional, social and physical health.

The Department of Health spends about $500,000 of State funding each year to prevent suicides in New Mexico. The Department contracts with several agencies and organizations throughout the state to implement a variety of activities, including the peer to peer programs, suicide awareness and crisis response and intervention for students and families who have experienced suicide and working with survivors.

Suicide warning signs are behavioral or emotional changes that show someone is in crisis or at risk for suicide. To remember the most relevant warning signs, think of the pneumonic “Is Path Warm.” That stands for Ideation, Substance abuse, Purposelessness, Anxiety/agitation, Trapped, Hopelessness, Withdrawal, Anger, Recklessness and Mood change. If you or someone you know is experiencing any or some of the following feelings, help is available.

The National Suicide Prevention lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Callers will be directed to a New Mexico help line that has information about state resources. For more information about the New Mexico Suicide Prevention Coalition, look up www.nmsuicideprevention.org.

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