March 01, 2023
City’s Health Department and Public Schools Share Results from 2022 Cambridge Youth Health Survey
The Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) and Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) have released summary results from the 2022 Cambridge Middle Grades and Teen Health Survey, which is based on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Youth Health Survey (MYHS).
Students in grades 6–12 who participated in the online health survey were asked about behaviors and experiences related to discrimination, violence and safety, mental health, substance use, sexual activity, nutrition, physical activity, and other topics.
“Results from the 2022 Cambridge youth survey show signs that more students are returning to behaviors—both healthy and potentially harmful—that were put ‘on hold’ during the pandemic,” said Derrick Neal, the city’s chief public health officer. “For instance, compared to the 2021 survey findings, students appear to be better connected to friends and trusted adults, but we’re also seeing an uptick in substance use and an ongoing upward trend in mental health issues, especially among our high school students.”
“We’re concerned that mental health issues continue to weigh on our young people, however, it’s heartening that there is growing awareness about mental health in the community,” said CPS Superintendent Victoria L. Greer. “We are pleased that our School Committee and administration proactively allocated resources for supports in schools. We are delighted that the state also recently allocated more resources to Cambridge and other communities to help address the challenges.”
The mental health experiences of Cambridge high school students are similar to those of youth nationally. The CDC recently reported that poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors among high school students increased for nearly all groups between 2011 and 2021.
A total of 2,200 students participated in the survey in May and June 2022, with 69% of high school students and 76% of middle schoolers participating.
- Discrimination. A greater percentage of high school students reported bad or unfair treatment in school due to discrimination than in past surveys. High school students were most likely to report being treated badly or unfairly in school because of their sex or gender identity (17%), followed by race or ethnicity (14%), sexual orientation (6%), and faith or religious beliefs (6%).
- Over 60% of upper and high school students reported witnessing discriminatory actions by students and over 20% witnessed discriminatory actions by teachers or other school staff.
- Social Support. Upper and high school students were most likely to confide in a friend their age or a family member if they had a problem. The percentage of students who had a trusted friend or adult to talk to increased from 2021, but was lower than before the pandemic.
- Overall, 48% of high school students and 38% of upper school students experienced anxiety in the past year. Top worries were academics, social relationships, and appearance.
- The proportion of high school students who experienced depression (37%), hurt themselves (17%), or considered attempting suicide (20%) reached their highest levels since 2012. Genderqueer and female high school students were most likely to experience anxiety and depression, engage in self-harm, and consider attempting suicide. These findings are consistent with national youth mental health trends (see the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011–2021).
- Among upper schoolers, genderqueer students and students receiving special education were most likely to experience anxiety and depression, engage in self-harm, or consider attempting suicide. Overall, the percentage of upper school students who experienced depression (22%) or hurt themselves (12%) decreased from 2019, while the percentage of students who considered attempting suicide (14%) increased.
- Overall, 22% of high school students have had consensual sexual intercourse. Of these students, 55% reported using a condom the last time they had sex.
- Overall, 6% of high school students and 3% of upper school students reported experiencing sexual violence in the past 12 months. Sexual violence was defined as unwanted sexual contact or being forced to do sexual things that you did not want to. Among high schoolers, female students and genderqueer students the most likely to experience sexual violence in the past 12 months (10% and 7%, respectively). Among upper schoolers, students receiving special education and genderqueer students were the most likely to experience sexual violence in the past 12 months (9% and 8%, respectively).
- A greater percentage of high school students reported being physically active than in past years, while activity levels remained stable among upper school students.
- The majority of upper and high school students ate fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
- Many Cambridge teens are not getting enough sleep: Only 8% of high school students and 38% of upper school students reported sleeping 8 or more hours on a regular school night. Around 40% of students reported checking their phone after they got into bed to go to sleep.
Steering Committee staff from the public schools and the health department oversaw the survey project. John Snow, Inc., provided support for the project and students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School contributed to preparing the survey questions.
A summary of results for the 2022 Cambridge Teen Health Survey and findings from previous years’ surveys can be found on the Cambridge Public Health Department’s Youth Health Surveys webpage and the Cambridge Public Schools Health Survey webpage.
A discussion of the 2022 survey results and related work will take place at the School Committee School Climate Sub-Committee meeting on Wednesday, March 1 at 6 p.m.