High school students in Douglas County reported attempting suicide and needing medical attention after a suicide attempt at significantly higher rates than their peers across the U.S., according to a youth risk behavior survey released Wednesday.
Students — 1,087 of them — in all 16 high schools in the county's public school districts filled out the anonymous surveys at school last fall after returning consent forms signed by their parents.
The response rate on the surveys, 49 percent, wasn't high enough to generalize results to the county's entire high school population. But the survey still provides a valuable picture of what's happening here among youths, said Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department.
Nearly 22 percent of respondents in grades 9 through 12 reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks in a row in the previous 12 months, lower than the 28.5 percent in the U.S., Pour said. But about 12.5 percent of the Douglas County students reported attempting suicide in the previous year, compared with 7.7 percent of Nebraska students and 7.8 percent of students nationwide, Pour said. More than 6 percent needed medical attention after a suicide attempt, which Pour said also was significantly higher than the peer rate in Nebraska (2.6 percent) and the nation (2.4 percent).
“This really is unacceptable in our community,” Pour told the county's Board of Health. “We need to provide tools to our young people so they can overcome those struggles.”
Jason Rosso lost his 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, to suicide last November. She had told her school counselor at Millard South High School that she was thinking about harming herself, Rosso said, and school officials contacted him right away so that he could get her admitted to treatment.
“In my opinion, they did everything by the book,” Rosso said of school officials. “They called me in, they gave me a form saying I have to take her in. ... That was a positive.”
Lauren was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, he said, and was in and out of treatment here and in Kansas, where her mother lives.
“Mental illness is not something everybody wants to talk about,” Rosso said. “I want to raise awareness. Suicide is preventable if given the right help.”
The Boys Town National Hotline, 1-800-448-3000, is available for youths and parents with concerns about mental health issues.
Other parts of the risk behavior survey were positive, Pour said. Douglas County students who completed the survey did better than U.S. students in 27 of the 96 indicators, Pour said, particularly in the areas of physical fighting, substance use and sexual behavior.
For example, 52 percent reported ever drinking alcohol, compared with nearly 71 percent of U.S. students. And nearly 36 percent of the Douglas County students reported ever having sexual intercourse, compared with 47.4 percent of U.S. respondents.
The survey, which comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was overseen by the Bureau of Sociological Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is scheduled to be administered again next fall.