2023 Healthy Youth Survey results offer signs of hope and resiliency among Washington students

For immediate release: March 13, 2024   (24-029)

Contact: DOH Communications 

OLYMPIA – The statewide 2023 Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) results are now available, representing the voices of over 217,000 Washington students in grades 6-12. The survey focuses on the health and well-being of young people. In 2023, students reported improved health behaviors and mental health along with increased social support. While concerns remain, the findings suggest positive changes in adolescent health and well-being. These results are an opportunity to carry this momentum forward and continue focusing on prevention and resiliency among youth in Washington.

“The Healthy Youth Survey provides educators and policymakers with important insight into our students’ well-being,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “Our students are telling us that they are continuing to recover from the impacts of the pandemic––they are resilient, and hopeful, and they are getting access to the supports they need. While we still have work to do, the focused work of our educators, the support of our families and community members, and the resources provided by our Legislature are making a difference.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a large decrease, roughly 50%, in most youth substance use. While the long-term impacts are unknown, in 2023 we see that substance use has mostly remained stable, both in Washington and nationally, according to the 2023 HYS and Monitoring the Future surveys.

Among 10th grade Washington State HYS participants in 2023: 

  • 8% reported current vaping 
  • 9% reported current alcohol use       
  • 8% reported current cannabis use 

Exceptions to this stable trend were increases in misuse of prescription drugs, pain killers, and other illegal drugs compared to 2021. While representing a relatively small proportion of students overall (each under 3%), these findings show more prevention work is needed. There was also an increase in 2023 in the number of 10th graders who reported ever having alcohol, but this remains lower than students reported in 2018 (49% in 2018; 32% in 2021; 40% in 2023).

Will Lukela, Agency Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board advocates for continued collaboration, “The Liquor and Cannabis Board’s focus is on preventing youth access to alcohol, cannabis, tobacco, and vapor products and these data make it clear, comprehensive prevention services need to remain a top priority.”

Mental health outcomes among 10th graders are improving, but remain highly concerning, especially for youth who already face more barriers to mental health support. According to the new data, depressive feelings and contemplation or planning suicide significantly decreased from 2021 to 2023. Even so, 30% of 10th graders reported persistent depressive feelings, and nearly 15% reported contemplating suicide. While this is an unacceptable level of youth struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is also the lowest rate we have seen in Washington in 20 years.

The same improving trends seen among youth in general were also seen among sexually or gender-diverse (LGBTQ+) youth and those reporting a disability. However, many of these students still experience far higher levels of mental health issues. Depressive feelings were nearly two times higher for students who identify as female compared to male, more than two times higher for LGBTQ+ youth, and three times higher among students identifying as having a disability.

“We hope to leverage these positive trends in the 2023 survey to close disparity gaps where they exist in communities throughout our state.  We want to ensure we continue to see positive trends for years to come for all families and communities. It is important to maintain focus on adolescent substance use and mental health, while also using prevention strategies to address other challenges facing young people including disordered eating and violence” adds Michael Langer, Assistant Director at the Washington State Health Care Authority.

10th graders report significant increases in social support. Compared to 2021, more students reported:

  • Having adults to turn to when feeling depressed (50% in 2021 vs. 59% in 2023)
  • Having people from school who would help them (72% in 2021 vs. 77% in 2023)
  • Receiving information from their school about the warning signs of suicide (47% in 2021 vs. 56% in 2023)
  • Greater levels of success on academic indicators (52% in 2021 vs. 56% in 2023)

“Overall, we are encouraged by these results after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” shared Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, a pediatrician and Chief Science Officer at the Washington State Department of Health. “We see these as a sign that our state’s system of families, schools, communities, and programs are helping to support youth and make positive change. Adolescent health in Washington is improving in many ways but much work remains to be done. It’s up to us to keep up the momentum and keep things moving in the right direction.”

State agencies are encouraged by the tremendous work done by people across Washington, especially students, during challenging times. Students took the time to provide important information about their lives and this will guide the implementation of prevention and health promotion initiatives. To these students, their families, and the communities that continue to offer supportive environments, we thank you!

Visit www.AskHYS.net to access resources, explore the data dashboard, propose new or modified survey questions for 2025, learn about survey process, or how to advocate for your child’s school to participate in the next round.

The Washington State Health Care Authority, Washington State Department of Health, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Liquor and Cannabis Board collaborate on the biennial HYS. Student participation is voluntary and anonymous. The last survey was conducted in 2021, and 2023 marked the 18th statewide youth survey in Washington.

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