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Thirty Percent of Cuyahoga County teens experienced 'depressive symptoms,' One in six considered suicide: Youth Behavior Survey provides snapshot

August 27, 2018
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The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was developed by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and provides a snapshot of student behaviors that impact health. The YRBS covers a wide range of topics, from diet and exercise to personal safety; alcohol, tobacco and other drug use; sex and depression. It also assesses protective factors experienced by students. Nearly 80 percent of Cuyahoga County high schools participated in the 2017 YRBS survey, providing us with a glimpse into the lives of young people in Northeast Ohio.

 Nearly 80 percent of Cuyahoga County high schools participated in the 2017 YRBS survey, providing us with a glimpse into the lives of young people in Northeast Ohio.

Data for 2017 was released by the Prevention Research Center (PRC) for Healthy Neighborhoods at Case Western Reserve University, which conducts the survey in Cuyahoga County – 45 of the county’s 58 high schools participated meaning close to 14,000 students were surveyed last year. This is a tremendous survey and because of its breadth, and, with so many students participating, it is considered representative of in-school teens across the county. [bctt tweet="The Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides a glimpse into the lives of Northeast Ohio young people. What did the results tell us? Find out here" username="CommunitySols"]  

Schools and community-based organizations use the data to inform policy, and to plan programs and services, so they can best suit resources to the needs young people identify in the survey. Several groups invested in adolescent health, including school groups, funders and other youth serving networks of organizations, have recently been provided with the new data.  

The AIDS Funding Collaborative (AFC) hosted a presentation by the PRC earlier this summer to take a look at sexual risk-taking and outcomes. We know that rates of HIV have increased among local young people, so it was concerning to learn that significantly fewer youth are being taught – at school or by family – about HIV. And, while students reported having fewer sexual partners and younger students are less likely to have engaged in sex, those who have had sex are less likely to use a condom, which prevent HIV and other infections.

 Those who have had sex are less likely to use a condom, which prevent HIV and other infections.

Also of interest to the AFC was the experience of ‘sexual minority youth’ – those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Nationally it has been reported that these youth are more at risk for poor health outcomes, including HIV. From our local data we found the same. In Cuyahoga County they are more likely to have earlier sexual experiences, use less effective methods of contraception, or to not use a condom. They were also less likely to have learned about HIV compared to their heterosexual peers. Youth identifying themselves as heterosexual were more likely to report their parents talked to them about sex, compared to sexual minority youth.

 When considering sexual and dating violence, sexual minority youth are more than twice as likely to experience forced intercourse, or have been physically hurt by someone they were dating.

Looking at the context for local youth, bullying is rampant, and a more common experience for sexual minority youth. When considering sexual and dating violence, sexual minority youth are more than twice as likely to experience forced intercourse, or have been physically hurt by someone they were dating.  

As other reports have noted – mental health issues are also more prevalent among our youth. About one in four Cuyahoga students reported depressive symptoms in the last 12 months, meaning they said they felt sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row and that they stopped doing some usual activities. This rate increased significantly from 2013 to 2017, and increased in high school compared to middle school. One in six teens reported that they had seriously considered suicide. Startling rates of depression and suicidal ideology were reported among sexual minority youth: 59% had depressive symptoms, 40% had considered suicide and close to 1 in 4 had attempted suicide.

 About one in four Cuyahoga students reported depressive symptoms in the last 12 months

In the survey, students were asked about their gender identity, but the group reporting to be transgender was too small for accurate analysis. However, other studies suggest that the above findings would be similar for this minority group as well.  

Protective factors  

Protective factors mitigate personal risk-taking and also affect how young people cope with environments that could negatively impact their health. They include connectedness to school and community – like participating in extracurricular activities, engaging in volunteer activities and getting good grades (defined by the survey as mostly A’s and B’s). Young people feeling like they matter in their communities, that they can impact what happens in their school, and who talk with their parents about school, are also protective factors.  

When considering the health outcomes mentioned above, local young people who reported more protective factors (4 to 6 protective factors reported versus 0 to 3) also reported significantly more health promotion activities and fewer behaviors associated with health risk. Students who describe themselves as heterosexual are less likely to report a low number of protective factors, and more likely to report a high number, compared to sexual minority students.

 Young people feeling like they matter in their communities, that they can impact what happens in their school, and who talk with their parents about school, are also protective factors.

As a new school year begins, we, as members of these students’ communities, and who create the environments in which our young people develop, have an opportunity to increase the factors that will ultimately protect our youth. We all have a role in making the young people we interact with feel valued. Especially important is engaging those young people who have not found a place in mainstream school and community activities. Data like that garnered from the YRBS help us to know better, now it is up to us, as community, to do better.  

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