Mental health for local students decline

The mental health of Alger County teens have gotten worse over the last two years, and have fallen further behind the national average for positive action and risk awareness. This is according to a study conducted by Alger County Communities That Care (AC3).

“Our kids are in crisis and we need to address it now,” said AC3 Coordinator Hans Eriksen. “In most things we are below the national average in protective factors and above the national average in risk factors, so you want to be the opposite on both.”

According to the survey results, 58 percent of Alger County students have experienced some sort of depression, like thinking that life is not worth it or that the student is inclined to think they are a failure. This is a 15 percent increase since a survey taken in 2018 and 19 percent higher than the national average.

Participation and perceived value of prosocial activities are also below national averages, with 44 percent of students reporting consistent participation in school organizations, volunteer work or community clubs. Local students also said that hard e_ort at school, defending someone from bullying or regular community service projects would be not perceived as “cool”. This continues a downward trend of 26 percent since 2016.

Prosocial activities are defined as “voluntary actions specifically taken to benefit the wellbeing of an individual or group of individuals,” according to Eriksen.

Alger County students also have a worse score for understanding other risks like alcohol, marijuana and tobacco usage. Area students have an 11 percent higher disregard for the substances that are legal for adult usage in Michigan than the national average, with two of every three students saying usage was not very risky.

The survey was provided to students at the four public school districts in Alger County. While Munising Baptist has participated in past studies, the area’s lone private school did not participate this year. Munising Baptist has approximately four percent of the countywide student total when including Munising, Superior Central, Au Train-Onota and Burt Township. Surveys are taken every two years.

Similar surveys were administered by other Communities That Care (CTC) groups in Upper Peninsula areas. Both MARESA intermediate school district counties of Marquette and Alger administered surveys, but only three of the four LMAS Health District counties administered the survey. It was not available in Luce County. No U.P.wide composite of CTC survey results are available for greater comparisons through cultural and governmental distinctions, like ISDs, health districts, time zones, congressional districts or areas where students hop county lines through school of choice opportunities.

The 2022 edition was the first survey taken after the COVID-19 pandemic, so any anxiety and depression numbers would be before the additional stressors of shutdowns and other anti-COVID measures.

Results of the survey were presented to the Superior Central teachers and sta_ at a school service day, according to Eriksen. The statistics were also available at a community forum. While the forum was well advertised, only 40 members of the public made the event, as all four Alger County high schools had a boys basketball game going on at the same time.

Despite the lack of public engagement, a panel discussion including mental health o ials, law enforcement and school offi cials provided extra benefit, according to Munising Public Schools Superintendent Mike Travis.

“The whole panel was very helpful to us, but many of us didn’t talk to each other between agencies,” Travis said. “Now we have a way to have some dialogue and plan to meet quarterly. We, as a district, have to do what’s best for the students and staff.”

Moving forward, AC3 will be working on a community assessment to try and reverse these trends. Similar to a master plan for municipal government, the assessment will help identify funding and programming opportunities to add to existing efforts like community forums, youth councils, training for staff and opening dialogue with the community.

“I think these things need to be bolstered and we need to be more flexible to impact the community more,” Eriksen said. “But we need to make sure that we’re having a community conversation on what we do with these statistics. That has to be more than just providers, but parents and the caregivers of these kids we surveyed involved, because they have the right to know and to voice what change they would like to see to combat this.”

To review the full study and engage in more discussion about mental health of local youth, contact AC3 through the AC3 Facebook page, website or call (906) 202-2244.

“In most things we are below the national average in protective factors and above the national average in risk factors, so you want to be the opposite on both.”

Hans Eriksen, AC3 Coordinator