‘We’re breaking the stigma and finally talking about it’: Nearly half of San Antonio teens polled report feeling helpless, survey says

San Antonio Teen Mental Survey was conducted by the San Antonio Youth Commission and Project Worth

SAN ANTONIO – A mental health survey conducted in San Antonio found nearly 50% of people ages 12 to 19 are experiencing mental health issues. The survey found an even higher rate of mental health issues among LGBTQ+ and gender diverse youth.

The San Antonio Teen Mental Survey was designed by teens from the San Antonio Youth Commission and Project Worth. The survey gives the community an understanding of the mental health crisis young people are experiencing and their own recommendations for future solutions.

The survey was conducted March 8 to April 11, with nearly 6,000 people visiting the survey and 846 responses considered valid. Respondents came from every district in San Antonio. The survey was a response to several pediatric agencies declaring mental health a crisis among young adults.

Project Worth Teen Ambassador Mentor Michael Valdez worked with teenagers to write questions and distribute the survey throughout the city.

“It’s good that we’re breaking the stigma and finally talking about it because the data, it’s really true, because we’re actually answering questions that don’t typically get answered or asked before. So it’s good that we’re starting to have this conversation,” Valdez said.

The majority of young people who responded to the survey are experiencing mental health struggles. At least 49% reported feeling numb or helpless and 37% reported an inability to complete daily tasks. The rate was even higher for people identifying as LGBTQ+ at 71% and 58% respectively.

Based on survey results, LGBTQ+ and gender diverse populations reported a higher rate of suicidal thoughts and hurting themselves. The total population reported 28% of suicidal ideation, while LGBTQ+ young persons reported 55% and 58% of gender diverse groups expressed having thoughts of suicide.

The local data aligns with national trends. The CDC reported a 31% surge of teen suicide attempts from 2019 to 2020.

“This is not just proof of the problem, it’s a cry for help. For me, this is more than just thinking about a problem, it’s preventing it from happening to people ever again. Who are we to look at this need and not do anything for them,” said Julia Doski of the San Antonio Youth Commission.

The survey reveals that the top two mental health stressors are school and COVID-19. Based on the respondents from ages 12-19, at least 59% reported school being a stressor and 51% reported COVID-19 as a stressor. These results are even worse for the LGBQ+, gender diverse, and Asian American communities.

“We had to be at home with parents and other siblings attending school and younger children that are not in school yet. So it really played a big factor in our mental health decreasing,” Valdez said. “We have a lot of stuff going on. Some of us work, some of us go to school. We go to school for extracurricular activities or we have to be at school longer to receive help that we need, like homework.”

Meanwhile, young people reported a lack of safe spaces and trusted who they could talk to. At least 17% reported they were not comfortable talking with anyone. Most young people talk to their friends about their feelings, which is about 41% of the respondents.

Written responses in the survey said teenagers do not have enough access to mental health resources and there is limited education on how to get help at home.

One response from the survey said, “We need mental health resources at school or even mental health professionals coming in and showing us how to take care of ourselves. many parents think mental health is a joke and wont take us to youth centers.”

Valdez said students may seek out school counselors, but sometimes there is a long wait to be seen.

“Most of our counselors are like have the burden of trying to meet with students and follow along, like with grades and stuff. So that’s just really, really challenging for the student. ,” Valdez said.

The survey found most youth go to their friends for support, which is why The Teen Mental Health First Aid was launched to train young people from 10th to 12th grade on how to help their peers in a crisis. Valdez participated in the three day training.

“It teaches you how to just like approach them. Why they’re feeling that way? Because there are some people that they do need help, but they just don’t aren’t comfortable asking for help,” Valdez said.

Young people in the survey suggested schools should have more resources with access to mental health professionals, create more mental health programs and more confidential text services for support.

There will be another report in 2023.

There is funding from the American Rescue Plan Act available to support youth. There is $10 million available for youth services and $26 million for mental health. The funding could be used for wraparound services for young adults aging out of the foster system, opportunity youth services, programs that offer positive childhood experiences, summer and afterschool programs and gang intervention programs.

The 34 question survey was developed by teenagers who are involved with the San Antonio Youth Commission and Project Worth. The survey was distributed through the San Antonio Speak Up website, community events like Siclovia and paper copies were distributed through the Parks and Recreation department. It is the first youth focused survey to be distributed on San Antonio Speak Up.

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Data from 2009 to 2019 of high school students nationwide have shown increases in having persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, having seriously considered suicide, and having attempted suicide. This has only been compounded by the effects of COVID-19.

You can review the survey below:

Here are some mental health resources: