Survey: Drinking, drug use down, anxiety up in Trumbull schools

Photo of Amanda Cuda
A slide from a 2021 student survey done by TPAUD, Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership.

A slide from a 2021 student survey done by TPAUD, Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership.

Contributed image

TRUMBULL — Middle school and high school students in Trumbull are using alcohol and other drugs less frequently than their counterparts from just a few years ago.

However, a fairly high number of students report feeling sad or hopeless for long periods of time, and are less informed about seeking help for mental health struggles than they were in past years.

That data comes from a 2021 student survey done by TPAUD, Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership. The organization administered surveys between November and December of 2021 and received responses from 837 middle school students and 1,944 high school students.

The surveys have been done every two years since 2007, said Melissa McGarry, TPAUD project director.

“It’s a benchmark - how are our kids doing? How are we doing?” she said.

In the nearly 15 years the organization has been doing the survey, she said, certain substances have fallen in and out of favor, and attitudes have changed.

For example, McGarry said, vaping was barely a factor when the survey started, and there’s more known now about the connection between mental health and substance use. As result, the survey has had to adapt, and questions have had to change.

The good news, McGarry said, is that substance use remains low among middle school students in Trumbull, and has fallen sharply among high school students.

For instance, in 2007, 49 percent of high school students survey reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. In 2021, 16 percent of high school students reported alcohol use in the past 30 days.

TPAUD didn’t even start asking students about marijuana use in the survey until 2013, at which time 19 percent of them reported using the drug in the past 30 days. In the most recent survey, 9 percent of that age group reported using marijuana in the past 30 days.

Numbers were even lower in the middle school set. In 2007, 14 percent of seventh and eighth graders reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. In 2021, that number plummeted to 2 percent.

Marijuana use among middle school students has remained low ever since TPAUD began asking about it in 2013. At that time, only 1 percent of seventh and eighth graders reported using the drug in the past 30 days, and, in 2021, the number was less than 1 percent.

“Our middle school students are making great decision and that’s super encouraging,” McGarry said.

However, the survey did find note some trends, particularly when it came to attitudes around marijuana. The study found that the older students got, the more likely they were not to believe the drug was harmful.

Roughly 88 percent of seventh graders said they thought marijuana caused moderate or great harm whereas 46 percent of 12th graders held that opinion.

“That, to me, is a red flag,” McGarry said.

Another concerning finding is that a significant number of middle school and high school students seem to be facing mental health struggles.

The survey found that 32 percent of middle school students and 43 percent of high school students said that, during the past 12 months they felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that (they) stopped doing some usual activities.”

McGarry said those percentages might not seem high, but they translate to 259 middle school students and 831 high school students.

“That’s hundreds of kids reporting being so depressed that they are unable to do regular activities,” she said. “Those are little human people who are our kids and our neighbors and our kids’ friends.”

Those numbers are up from 26 percent and 33 percent among middle and high school students in 2019.

Also distressing, McGarry said, is that 28 percent of high school students said they didn’t know where to go for help if they were concerned about depression, anxiety or substance use. In 2017, 18 percent said they didn’t know where to get help for these issues.

McGarry said more education is needed to make sure students know that help is available if they needed.

“How do you support those kids?” she said. “How do you connect them to resources?”

TPAUD has been trying to push education around mental health issues through its new speaker series “Let’s Talk Mental Health, Trumbull.”

McGarry said it’s key to get parents involved with talking to kids about mental health and substance issues.

“If we talk to our children about these things, it helps,” she said.