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Survey: Nashua youth report suicidal thoughts, depression

Union Leader Correspondent

January 16. 2018 11:44PM

NASHUA — Although alcohol and marijuana use among local middle school students has declined, city youth are reporting concerning levels of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to the results of a 2017 survey.

“Mental health is still a huge concern,” said Kameo Chasse of the Nashua Prevention Coalition, the organization that distributed the survey to the schools.

The results of the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was voluntarily completed by students at Elm Street Middle School, Fairgrounds Middle School and Pennichuck Middle School, were unveiled last week to school officials.

The survey was first presented to city middle school students in 2015, and again in the spring of 2017.

While many risky behaviors seem to be on the decline, the results indicate significant levels of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, according to Chasse.

“The females are reporting much more signs of depression,” she told the Board of Education recently.

According to the survey results, 21 percent of female participants seriously thought about killing themselves compared to 10 percent of males. About 11 percent of females made a plan detailing how they would kill themselves compared to 6 percent of males.

In addition, the survey indicated that 6.6 percent of the female participants and 4 percent of the male participants had actually tried to kill themselves at least once.

“These are areas of concern,” said Jan Valuk, project director of the Nashua Prevention Coalition.

About 32 percent of the female participants and 17 percent of the males indicated that they felt sad or hopeless at least two weeks in a row, and 16 percent of females and 6.5 percent of males said they purposefully hurt themselves at least once.

Despite the concerning levels of depression being reported by Nashua’s young teens, the group is using fewer cigarettes and less alcohol and marijuana compared to the middle school students surveyed in 2015.

At the time that the survey was distributed in 2017, 14 participants reported smoking a cigarette within the past 30 days compared to 32 participants in 2015; 59 reported using an electronic vaping device within the past month compared to 144 in 2015; 42 reported having had one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days compared to 90 in 2015; 25 reported smoking marijuana within the past month compared to 38 in 2015; and about 11 students in both 2015 and 2017 reported using a prescription drug without a prescription in the past 30 days.

“Overall we are really pleased to see this much improvement,” said Chasse, noting the risky behavior substantially declined in the 2-year span.

The survey is not mandatory, and all students do have the choice to opt out of participating. According to Valuk, about 89 percent of middle school students participated in the survey.

“It is totally anonymous. There are no names,” she added.

Administrators will use the new data to determine whether new programs could be beneficial in addressing some of the information revealed in the survey results, explained Chasse.

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