BILLINGS — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a debilitating impact on teenage mental health, according to the 2021 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The survey, made up of 98 questions for students in grades 7-12 and released last fall, revealed that 41.4 percent of high school students reported feeling depressed almost every day for at least two straight weeks. That’s an all-time high, especially for women who self-reported at 52.6 percent.
"It’s not surprising to me because of what we’ve been through," said Renee Schoening, the executive director of the Montana School Counselors Association. "Kids need connection, and there’s been so much less connection."
Schoening is no stranger to the survey. Prior to becoming the MSCA executive director last June, she was a K-8 counselor in Deer Lodge for 16 years.
"I think that early intervention is key, and that’s where we can make the most impact," Schoening said.
"From what I’ve experienced, I have 100% seen an increase in student mental health concerns," said Jessica Buboltz.
Buboltz is the MSCA board chair and a current counselor at Missoula Hellgate high school. Both she and Schoening are in Billings this week for the group’s annual conference, which is focused on counselor burnout.
"We talk about making sure we have the skills to help ourselves," Buboltz said.
One of the heaviest issues Buboltz and her colleagues deal with are student suicidal thoughts. More than one in every five students- 21.7 percent- said they seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months. Eighteen percent actually made a plan, and over 10 percent attempted suicide one or more times.
"It’s hard," Buboltz said. "Working with any person that is in a place about taking their lives, that’s difficult."
"Suicide is definitely the hardest thing to have come across your desk," Schoening added. "The other thing that’s really hard is when a child discloses sexual abuse."
MTN News will share those sexual violence numbers, as well as several others that stand out over the next couple weeks in a continued look at Kids in Crisis across our state.