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Survey: California School Kids Safer, Depression Risk ‘High’

Capital Public Radio / File

Drug and alcohol use dropped among students in California and school safety increased, according to the results of a statewide survey. But the report shows indicators of depression risk are "at disturbingly high levels."

Capital Public Radio / File

Results of a statewide survey of California school kids shows safety has improved and drug use is down. But the report also points out that depression risk remains "disturbingly high" among seventh, ninth and eleventh graders.

The California Healthy Kids Survey evaluates how well schools met students’ needs for school safety, drug and alcohol prevention, mental health, and other factors that influence learning. 

The California Department of Education and the California Department of Health Care Services coordinated the report, which takes a random sample of seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders statewide. 

Latest results show decreases in alcohol and marijuana use since the previous survey in 2011–13, particularly among eleventh graders. Current use of alcohol, binge drinking, and marijuana use among eleventh graders decreased.

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About 20 percent across all grades reported seeing someone carrying a weapon on school property, down about 4-to-8 percent. The report says, of all questions related to school violence and safety, this was the biggest change. 

Participation in a physical fight also decreased in all grades, and indicators of physical victimization generally decreased. 

But the report notes that "results for two indicators of depression risk in the past 12 months showed little change at disturbingly high levels." 

Results show that "feelings of incapacitating, chronic sadness or hopelessness were reported by 26 percent of 7th graders, 32 percent of 9th graders and 34 percent of 11th graders. 

And, "nearly one-fifth of the high school students had seriously contemplated suicide." 

"About one-fifth of students across grades reported they had experienced cyber bullying in the past 12 months (spreading mean rumors or lies on the internet)," the report says. "This was an improvement of 3-4 points among high school students."

"This is the largest statewide survey in the nation and increases our understanding of how students feel about school and how they rank their school environment," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson says. "The more we can meet the needs of the whole child, including their social and emotional health, the more we can help them succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college."

The survey has been conducted every two years since 1985 and is intended to help state educators and health professionals improve services for students.