A survey shows Colorado kids are having more mental health issues. Here's what we learned.

·5 min read

Results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — a voluntary survey offered to students in grades 6 through 12 — showed that students across the state struggled through learning in the pandemic.

The survey, which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducts every other year, is the “only comprehensive survey on the health and well-being of young people.” Results are used to help organizations like school districts and other community organizations better understand those they’re serving.

In fall 2021, nearly 70,000 high school students and almost 40,000 middle school students participated.

More than 39% of kids who took the survey said they experienced feelings of depression — which was defined as “feeling so sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities” — in the past year. This reflects a 4% increase from 2019, when the survey was last conducted, and an 8% increase from 2017.

In Larimer County, nearly 42% of students reported feeling depressed, a 7% increase from 2019.

► Find a list of youth mental health resources at the end of this story.

The state also added COVID-19 specific questions to gauge how students were coping with the pandemic. They found that almost 70% of youths experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and about half of respondents felt daily stress more often.

Despite the increase in students experiencing depression and mental health struggles around COVID-19, suicide ideation and actual attempts did not increase, according to the survey, which found that 17% of youths seriously considered suicide and 7.2% attempted suicide in the past year. In 2019, 17.5% said they considered suicide and 7.6% said they had attempted it.

Including all students in Larimer County, the numbers were slightly higher: 20% said they’d considered committing suicide and 7.4% had attempted at least once. In 2019, 18.6% of Larimer County students surveyed said they considered suicide, while 7.3% said they attempted it.

Last spring, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared youth suicide a crisis in the state of Colorado as levels of behavioral and mental health problems outpaced medical problems at an unprecedented rate.

Colorado crisis: Survivors and experts say we can all help youths with mental health

The survey didn’t reveal exclusively bad news: Students generally seem to be showing lower levels of interest in drugs and alcohol. The data showed “a reduction in substance use and perceived access to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes,” according to Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the executive director of the state health department.

However, Larimer County's numbers in most of these areas were a bit higher than the state.

Across Colorado, nearly 24% of youths reported using alcohol within the past month, a sizable decrease from the almost 30% who answered yes in 2019. In Larimer County, 27% had used alcohol in the last month, which is about the same as the last time the survey was conducted.

Binge drinking in Larimer County was also slightly up — hovering around 14.6% of students — despite the statewide percentage decreasing to 12.5% from 14%.

About 58% of respondents in Larimer County said they thought it would be easy or very easy to get alcohol if they wanted it; across the state, 53% of students felt that way.

The trend of more perceived access in Larimer County continued for drugs, as well.

In Larimer County, 15.5% of respondents said they thought it’d be easy to get drugs like cocaine, LSD or amphetamines if they wanted to, opposed to 14.4% of students statewide who felt the same way. Forty percent of Colorado respondents felt it’d be easy to get marijuana, while almost 44% of students in Larimer County thought the same.

Another final takeaway from the report, according to Hunsaker, was the need for increased support and protective measures for youths of color and LGBTQ+ youth.

In Poudre School District, 28.2% of students identified as students of color last school year. There is no public data on how students identify in terms of gender or sexual orientation.

Among Colorado students who answered that they had been bullied in the last year, about 16% said it was because of their gender identity. In Larimer County, that number rose to almost 18%.

Almost one-third of students who said they’d been bullied statewide reported it was because of race. In Larimer County, just 23% said they’d been bullied for race.

PSD news: District cut ties with LGBTQ+ group after parent complaint about after-school club

Youth mental health resources

Safe2Tell: Submit an anonymous tip about yourself or someone you know online by calling and talking to a trained professional, or on the app.

CAYAC: Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Connections

  • healthdistrict.org/cayac#Crisis

  • Call: 970-221-3308

  • 425 W. Mulberry St., Suite 112, Fort Collins — Walk-ins cannot be accommodated at this time, according to the organization's website.

Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County: Offers information about suicide warning signs, community resources, grief support groups, youth-specific programs and more.

Poudre School District: List of warning signs and resources for families and students.

Youth crisis services

SummitStone Walk-In Crisis Center:

  • 1217 Riverside Ave., Fort Collins: Behavioral Health Urgent Care: Staff conducts assessments from 8 a.m. to midnight every day to anyone experiencing a self-defined behavioral health crisis.

  • Call: 970-494-4200, available 24/7

  • Text TALK to 38255

Colorado Crisis Services:

  • Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255)

  • Text TALK to 38255

Crisis Assessment Center:

  • In the emergency department of UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital. People can call with crisis concerns and for suicide assessments.

  • 1024 S. Lemay Ave., Fort Collins

  • 970-495-8090

911: If there is an emergency, call 911. People can call and request a member of the Mental Health Response Team. If a member of that team is not available, another police officer will respond. People can also request a follow-up from the MHRT.

Mental health warning signs

  • Uncharacteristic behavior

  • Changes in friendships or isolation

  • Drop in academic performance

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Personality change

  • Excessive sleeping

Information from Poudre School District. Some information has been updated by the Coloradoan for publication with this story.

Coloradoan reporter Sady Swanson contributed to this report.

Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado, Larimer County kids struggled with mental health amid COVID