Data from an annual children’s health survey has prompted officials to work towards creating a wellness center at American Canyon High School, where the mental health of a key group of students has provoked concerns.
The latest California Healthy Kids Survey also revealed students in Napa County are turning to e-cigarettes more than tobacco cigarettes, and are experiencing noticeable rates of depression or suicidal thoughts.
The survey is given each year to students in grades 5, 7, 9 and 11 at schools in Napa Valley Unified, Calistoga Joint Unified, Howell Mountain Elementary, and St. Helena Unified school districts.
The Napa County Office of Education said the 2016 Healthy Kids Survey contained some good news, while acknowledging there is still work to be done in other areas of well-being for teens and pre-teens.
The bright spots, according to NCOE, were Napa Valley public schools ranked in the top 10 percent in California for school climate, and students overall reported using alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana less.
In American Canyon, Filipino youth — who make up 35 percent of the ACHS student body — are suffering “from more depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety than our non-Filipino youth,” said Laura Mooiman, project director of the wellness program for NVUSD.
Data from the 2016 survey showed 41 percent of Filipino students said yes to the question: “Have you ever felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks?”
Twenty-eight percent of non-Filipino students answered yes to the same question.
Also, 23 percent of Filipino students said they had seriously considered suicide, compared to 17 percent of non-Filipino students.
And more than half of both groups — 62 percent Filipino, 51 percent non-Filipino — said yes to the question: “In the past six months, did you feel so nervous, anxious, frightened, or worried that you had difficulty concentrating?”
Given these results, Mooiman said the school district is working to add a wellness center at ACHS. “For many kids the wellness center is their only source of mental health support,” she said.
The school district has established wellness centers at its four middle schools, including American Canyon Middle School.
Although NVUSD is still working on getting grant funding to build a wellness center at ACHS, it already has money from the Napa County Health and Human Services for a school social worker who is developing a wellness program for the school.
The district also hopes to get another grant to hire a part-time community outreach liaison “to work specifically with the Filipino community,” said Mooiman, who is a licensed clinical social worker.
She said their research has shown Filipino youth accessed mental health services at a significantly lower rate than non-Filipino youth, making an outreach liaison important.
School climate is determined using multiple measures, including those gauging bullying, harassment and perceptions of school safety.
As for the survey’s results on drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco cigarettes, they showed:
The percentage of eleventh graders who have ever used alcohol decreased from 66 percent in 2007 to 43 percent in 2016. Also, 32 percent of eleventh graders last year reported using marijuana at some point, down from 41 percent in 2007.
In 2016, only 4 percent of eleventh graders had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days compared to 17 percent in 2007.
But the survey also found 9 percent of eleventh graders had used e-cigarettes or vape pens in the past 30 days. So had 5 percent of ninth graders and 2 percent of seventh graders.
There were also indications of mental health struggles among many students countywide:
35 percent of eleventh graders, 27 percent of ninth graders and 22 percent of seventh graders reported chronic sad or hopeless feelings (depression) in the past year.
17 percent of all students surveyed reported serious thoughts of suicide in the past year, which was the same percentage as in 2011.
NCOE also found LGBT youth are at higher risk for reporting sad or hopeless feelings.
Sixty-one percent of LGBT students reported chronic sadness or hopeless feelings, and 47 percent said they seriously considered suicide in the past year.