PROVIDENCE, RI. (WPRI) — More Rhode Island high school students are facing mental health challenges than ever before, according to a survey conducted last year by the Department of Health.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is conducted every two years in randomly-selected high schools “to provide a snapshot of how many students are engaging in behaviors or face challenges that may put their physical and mental health at risk,” according to the Health Department.

The 98-question survey was conducted in 2021 and covered a number of topics, including mental health, violence, substance abuse, bullying, sexual activity and eating habits. The survey was anonymously and voluntarily completed by 1,735 high school students.

“Supporting the healthy development of high school students requires us to have an accurate, comprehensive understanding of the issues they face,” Interim Health Director Dr. Utpala Bandy said. “The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is an invaluable tool in our work to develop such an understanding, and to do all we can to help Rhode Island kids be healthy and safe.”

In 2021, the survey indicates that 38% of students experienced feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which is a 32% increase from 2019. On top of that, the number of students who reported receiving the help they needed when feeling anxious or depressed declined by 33%.

The survey also suggests that fewer students had a teacher or adult at school they could confide in.

When it comes to substance use, 32% of students reported never using an electronic vaping device, which is a 49% decrease since 2019. Though alcohol use remained unchanged since 2019, students reported decreases in smoking cigarettes, as well as using marijuana and tobacco products.

The Health Department included new questions on the 2021 survey related to adverse childhood experiences. The results found that one in three students have lived with someone who was depressed or suicidal, while one in four claimed they have lived with someone who’s struggling with alcohol or substance use.

“We know the last few years have been especially challenging for youth not only here in Rhode Island, but across the nation,” Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said. “With this data and insight, we are better positioned to continue working closely with our state, education, and community partners to ensure our students have access to resources and tools that will allow them to grow and thrive.”