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Survey: Many Blaine county students report moderate to severe depression

Updated: 2 days ago

New initiative developing countywide prevention strategies


Part 1 of a two-part series


Based on a well-being survey of Wood River Valley students taken in the fall and three community meetings on youth mental health held last week, Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District’s superintendent, said he is excited about moving forward as a community on some “actionable” findings.


The first thing that stood out to Foudy as a means to combat feelings of depression was to promote better sleep among adolescents, he said.


The second was the need for strengthening relationships between students and their teachers to decrease feelings of isolation, as well as between students and other trusted adults outside of their parents and caregivers.


“I love a problem that I’m empowered to help solve,” Foudy said.


Of the 1,219 middle and high school Blaine County School District students surveyed, 27% reported moderate to severe depression.


What was striking, Foudy said, was the apparent relationship between sleep and depression. Of the students who reported getting six hours or less of sleep, 51% reported moderate to severe depression. Of the students getting seven hours or more of sleep, 20% reported moderate to severe depression.


“There is a connection between sleep and depression,” Foudy said. “And less than seven hours is not nearly enough. Teens need nine or more hours.”


That’s actionable for families, he said, through measures like consistent bed times and making sure there is no screen time within 30 minutes of bed time.

Of the 1,219 middle and high school Blaine County School District (BCSD) students surveyed, 27% reported moderate to severe depression.


Based on a survey of over 1,200 students in the fall, feelings of depression were reported at much higher rates among girls than boys. The Patient Health Questionnaire is a self-administered version of the PRIME-MD diagnostic instrument for common mental disorders.


“Sleep is so important,” said Megan Smith at a community meeting Thursday, Dec. 7, in Ketchum—both for adults and young people. In addition to a myriad of other health-related impacts, she said, research shows a lack of sleep among teens can also negatively impact emotional regulation, impulsivity and academic performance. “If you do nothing else—get sleep,” she said.


Smith is founding director of the Boise-based organization Communities for Youth and an associate professor for the Boise State University School of Public and Population Health.

The survey and meetings were part of a new initiative meant to develop preventative efforts to strengthen Blaine County’s ability to fight mental health issues among youth.


The “Youth Behavioral Health Initiative” is a collaboration between the School District, St. Luke’s Health System and Communities for Youth.


Led by Boise State faculty, Communities for Youth has been contracted by St. Luke’s to work on the initiative in Blaine County for the next five years.


Based on a survey of over 1,200 students in the fall, students who reported getting less than six hours of sleep a night also reported higher rates of feeling depressed.


The rate of students reporting moderate to severe depression was significantly higher for girls than boys at every grade level. For grades six through 10, girls reported moderate to severe depression at rates at least double the rates reported by boys in those grade levels.

Of ninth-grade girls surveyed, 49% reported moderate to severe depression.


The rates of depression and suicidal ideation among teen girls has been identified as a nationwide crisis.


A survey published in February 2023 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2021, 57% of high school girls reported experiencing a “persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness in the past year.” That was up from 36% in 2011, and close to double the 29% of boys reporting those same feelings in 2021.


In that same survey, 30% of girls surveyed reported seriously considering suicide.

In the Blaine County survey, 77% of students reported never having seriously considered suicide in the past six months. Thirteen percent said they’d considered it once, 8% two to four times, and 3% said they’d considered it five or more times.


On a point of caution around the data, Smith said she’s seen a tendency for some people to take on being depressed as an identity, illustrating a need for a more nuanced understanding that being sad doesn’t necessarily mean depression.


Part of adolescent development includes pretty severe highs and lows, Smith said, and it is important for young people to understand and identify normal challenges, and normal lows, and when they are in need of professional help.


On some of the survey’s bright sports, Smith said reported substance use rates among youth were very low. She also rated “parent monitoring,” meaning parents knowing where their kids are and who they are with, as excellent.


Sarah Seppa, St. Luke’s Wood River director of community engagement, said the meetings and survey results are just “the first steps of the process.” That includes identifying issues, then crafting goals, creating focus groups around carrying out those specific goals, and then monitoring progress through additional surveys and community meetings.


The other key actionable point which stood out to Foudy was data suggesting students needed stronger relationships with adults other than parents and caregivers.


Rates of depression were higher among students who felt a low connection to school, and a lower level of family social support.

“There is a connection between sleep and depression. And less than seven hours is not nearly enough."Jim FoudyBlaine County School District superintendent

Of the students surveyed, 55% answered “somewhat agree and strongly agree” that “the adults at my school care about me,” and just 35% said that, outside of parents and caregivers, “I have a trusted adult who is around when I am in need.”


Of the students who reported not having an outside trusted adult in their lives, 62% reported feeling high perceived levels of stress. Of those students who did say they had a trusted adult in their life, 18% reported high stress levels.


Of students surveyed, 54% of middle school students and 49% of high school students answered that they feel they get the emotional help and support they need from their families.


On school connectedness, 47% of students surveyed said “I feel like I am part of this school,” and 52% said they feel like “teachers at this school treat students fairly.”

Peer support was strong, with 80% of students reporting they have friends in school that care about them.


But just 33% of high school and 34% of middle school students said they “somewhat agreed or strongly agreed” that “the students at my school are nice to each other.”


When asked how important they feel to others, 39% of students reported experiencing a high sense of mattering to others, while 61% reported a low sense of mattering.


The survey will be issued again in a year, and over the next four years, as part of the initiative. Foudy said that allows the opportunity to monitor the effectiveness of efforts, as well as things like how those ninth grade girls are doing in 10th grade.


Foudy pointed to the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes.


“If we have 10 problems and focus on the right two, we will have a generalized positive effect on the rest,” Foudy said.



Based on a survey of over 1,200 Blaine County School District students in the fall, less than half of students reported having a trusted adult to whom they could turn outside their parents or caregivers.


Improving sleep habits and relationships with teachers and other adults in the community is something he said he sees as “things we can work on—that’s what I love.”


He said the district is building leadership teams that will work with teachers on brainstorming ways to improve relationships and help kids feel more connected and cared about. It could be little things, Foudy said, like greeting kids during passing periods and daily check-ins.


Foudy also said community buy-in is important.


“We’ve only got the kids 13% of the calendar year,” he said. “This is all stuff we can impact—but we have to do it together, and have to come together as a community to support our kids.” 


In Part 2: Experts give advice on talking to kids about mental-health issues, addressing challenges.




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