Thurston County Public Health and Social Services staff work hard to help every person in our county achieve the highest level of health and well-being. While we can point to our achievements, we know it is also important to talk about how we can continue improving our health, together.
Every two years, the State Department of Health conducts the Healthy Youth Survey. This survey gathers information directly from local youth, most recently in the fall of 2018. It provides vital information about the ways our work impacts youth in our county—both the areas where there have been improvements, and the areas where we need to focus more time and resources. While the overall health of the county is improving, specific areas of concern for our kids must be addressed.
One thing that stood out in the survey as a major concern was vaping. Youth report using more vapes for nicotine, which increases the likelihood of addiction and later cigarette use. Vapes can be used for marijuana and include cancer causing toxic chemicals.
There is also a strong need for local youth to have access to preventive care for medical, dental, and behavioral health issues. In Thurston County, fewer teens are regularly seeing a health care provider.
Some of the most concerning findings in the Healthy Youth Survey were around mental health issues. The results clearly show that the mental well-being of local youth should be a higher priority. The survey found that depression and thoughts of suicide may be more common than adults realize.
- 40% of Thurston County tenth graders experienced symptoms of depression in the past year.
- 22% of Thurston County sixth graders and 25% of tenth graders seriously considered attempting suicide.
This year, the Thurston County Board of Health dedicated funding to focus specifically on preventing youth suicide. In addition, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services participates in several local groups that focus on suicide prevention and mental health treatment, working to develop and implement programs that address mental health in Thurston County youth.
Suicide is a difficult topic, but we can all offer support to youth in our own ways. It's important to understand the warning signs and learn how to have a candid conversation.
Warning Signs for Youth Suicide
- Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
- Saying they feel hopeless or have no reason to live
- Talking about being in severe emotional pain or distress
- Behavior changes, particularly in combination with the signs above, such as: Being withdrawn or isolating themselves; anger or hostility that seems out of character or context; sleeping too little or too much; increased anxiety, agitation, or irritability
What You Can Do
- Don't ignore the symptoms. Don't assume the young person is being dramatic or looking for attention.
- Don't hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They can be a resource to help you and/or the teen you are concerned about and are a 24/7 service.
- Always call 911 or take the youth to the nearest emergency room if you are concerned they may be at immediate risk.
- Remove things from the home environment that could be lethal, such as firearms or prescription drugs, until the crisis has passed. Try to make anything that might be fatal inaccessible, so that a teen can't use these in an impulsive moment.
Talking about Suicide
You can and should talk with youth about their mental health and concerns you have. Talking about suicide does not plant the seed of suicidal thoughts or increase the chance of an attempt. One helpful place to go to get yourself ready for a conversation is the Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide. There you can find tips and ideas for how to have a conversation about suicide, as well as links to more resources and information on the subject of youth suicide prevention and mental health.
One important benefit of talking with a young person is that you build your connection to them. Connectedness, or being seen as a caring adult, is scientifically shown to be a form of protection against suicide.
- In 2018, only 61% of Thurston County sixth graders felt they had an adult they could turn to for help if they felt sad or hopeless.
- Among county tenth graders, this figure was 55%.
Research into youth development demonstrates that supportive, caring relationships with adults nurture and grow a young person's resilience. Just remember, there are things each of us can do to make a significant, positive impact on the lives of youth.