Combating depression – the need in D.C. for support and access

When you think about risky behavior that could lead young people to violence, you might think about drugs or alcohol or getting into fights. What about mental health? Results from Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) suggest that too many young people in D.C. may be in great danger of doing violence to themselves.

Looking at these results alongside DC Action for Children’s recent Data Snapshot on Children’s Mental Health paints a startling picture of how much stronger mental health support systems (including prevention and treatment) for children and young adults in D.C. need to be. Young people need community support to combat depression, avoid self-harming behavior and grow up into healthy, productive citizens.  

YRBSS is a national survey of high-risk behaviors among middle and high school students in public and private schools. Over 15,000 students across the country completed the anonymous surveys on six categories of risky behavior, including “behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence,” such as depression and suicidal thoughts.

Among the approximately 1,300 D.C. high school students surveyed in 2011:

•    25% felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in the year before the survey
•    11% seriously considered suicide
•    11% made a plan for how they would commit suicide
•    12% attempted suicide in the past year

While fewer D.C. high school students report planning or thinking about suicide than the national average, the suicide attempt rate is 4 percentage points higher than the national average.

Among the over 1,600 D.C. middle school students surveyed in 2011:

•    18% seriously considered suicide
•    12% made a plan for how they would commit suicide
•    9% attempted suicide

Mental health treatment – especially for mood disorders, like depression – in childhood and adolescence could help prevent suicide. Unfortunately, as DC Action found, too many of the city’s children also suffer from widespread inaccessibility of mental health services.

The D.C. Department of Mental Health (DMH) has created a public awareness campaign and online resource center in response to these alarming statistics – I Am the Difference. Public awareness campaigns are important, but policy initiatives to expand mental health care access – both in schools and the community – for youth might have an even larger impact.  


More information on the YBRSS results is available at:  http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/index.htm.

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