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Healthy Kids Colorado Survey finds depression on the rise among youths

More than a third of students surveyed statewide reported feeling so sad or hopeless they stopped doing usual activities almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks in the past year, according to the survey. Other findings were that vaping continued despite teens identifying it as risky, and that teens changed the way they used pot.
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Results of the biannual statewide Healthy Kids Colorado Survey that delves into drug, alcohol and tobacco use and other factors associated with young people’s well-being found depression was on the rise last year while tobacco, marijuana and vaping use held nearly steady. 

In 2019, 34.7% of youth reported feeling so sad or hopeless they stopped doing usual activities almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks in the past year, up from 31.4% in 2017 and 29.5% in 2015, according to survey results released Tuesday

The survey does not break down results by schools or districts but does include regions. In Boulder and Broomfield counties, 31% of youth reported feeling that sad or hopeless in 2019, up from 27% in 2017 and down slightly from 31.8% in 2015.

St. Vrain Valley School District does not participate in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, instead using a survey developed in-house, district spokeswoman Kerri McDermid said via email Tuesday. 

“We have a robust social-emotional learning and health curriculum for students at all grade levels,” she said, adding that the curriculum will continue to be integrated into the online-learning model for all students when the district starts the coming school year with online-only learning. “Additionally, counseling staff and interventionists will continue to work with students remotely to provide ongoing, high levels of support.”

The survey also found the way youths are using marijuana has changed, even though use has not increased. Youth marijuana use has not significantly changed since legalization, however, survey results revealed more young people are vaping or dabbing marijuana. Vape marijuana use rose to 10.6% in 2019 compared to 5.1% in 2015. Dabbing, which is used to describe inhaling vaporized cannabis concentrates, rose from 4.3% in 2015 to 20.4% in 2019.

Among students 15 and younger in the Boulder-Broomfield county region, the survey found 74.7% who used marijuana in the past 30 days did so by dabbing and 40.1% did so by vaping. Among students ages 16 and 17, 54% reported dabbing and 38% reported vaping marijuana. 

Overall marijuana use reported by students in Boulder and Broomfield counties was 15.6% for those 15 or younger, 27.6% for 16- and 17-year-olds, and 37.7% for those 18 and older. 

And while vaping use has not grown, it also has not significantly declined even in a time when more teens see vape use as risky. The survey found that statewide seven in 10 students younger than 17 who were surveyed “think people who use electronic vapor products every day have a moderate or great risk of harm.”

In Boulder and Broomfield counties, 80% of teens younger than 17 stated daily vaping use is risky. 

In Colorado, the percent of youth who vape has not significantly changed since 2015, and cigarette use is declining. In 2019, 5.7% of youth reported smoking cigarettes compared to 7.2% in 2017. In 2019, 25.9% of youth reported vaping compared to 27.0% in 2017. The percent of youth who think vaping is risky rose 23.2% between 2017 and 2019.

In Boulder and Broomfield counties, 27.4% of students reported using an electronic vapor product in the past 30 days; and 6.7% of youth reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2019 vs. 7.9% in 2017.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey polls middle and high school students on a number of health-related topics. The Colorado School of Public Health within the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus administers the survey in the fall of odd-numbered years. In 2019, more than 100,000 students were surveyed in 503 public schools in 59 Colorado counties in 2019 — the largest administration to date, according to CDPHE.

The survey also found support systems make a difference. 

“The 2019 (Healthy Kids Colorado Survey) results show when young people have access to protective factors — like trusted adults who can help with problems, clear family rules, and feeling safe and connected at school — they are less likely to experience poor mental health and engage in unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse and violence,”  the Colorado Department of Health and Environment stated in the news release. “Ensuring that all youth have equitable access to protective factors can help them thrive.”

Among other results reported Tuesday:

  • Marijuana: In 2019, 20.6% of youth said they used marijuana compared to 19.4% in 2017. In the Boulder and Broomfield county area, 22.6% said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. 
  • Sexual health: In 2019, 24.6% of youth statewide said they were sexually active; in Boulder and Broomfield counties the total was 24.4%. Of those youth, 59.4% statewide and 65.6% in Boulder and Broomfield counties used a condom the last time they had sex. Statewide, 79.2% said they used birth control, and 78.5% said they didn’t use drugs or alcohol before sex. Locally, 86.8% reported using birth control and 76.9% reported not drinking or using drugs prior to sex.
  • Healthy eating, active living: Sugary beverage consumption by youth is decreasing. In 2019, 14.4% of youth statewide consumed more than one soda per day in the last week compared to 15.8% in 2017. In Boulder and Broomfield counties, 9.2% of students reported having at least one soda a day in 2019. Data was not available for 2017. The percent of youth who are overweight or obese has not significantly changed statewide since 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment news release.
  • Substance use: Statewide youth who reported they use alcohol (29.6%), marijuana (20.6%), or vape (25.9%) has not significantly changed since 2015, according to the news release. In Boulder and Broomfield counties, 36.6% of survey respondents reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, 22.6% reported using marijuana and 27.4% reported vaping.

Julie Baxter

About the Author: Julie Baxter

Julie Baxter is The Leader's' assistant editor.
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