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Colorado, Idaho opt out of national survey that tracks teen mental health

Mental Health CDC
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The Youth Risk Behavior surveys have been sent out every odd-numbered year since the 1990s. They contain an extensive list of questions to track conditions and behaviors like depression, suicidal ideation, drug use and sexual activity.

News brief

Colorado and Idaho are joining a handful of other states in opting out of a long-running CDC survey that tracks teenagers' mental health. Experts fear the states' exclusion will compromise the country's ability to monitor concerning behaviors among high schoolers as the youth mental health crisis only deepens.

The Youth Risk Behavior surveys have been sent out every odd-numbered year since the 1990s. They contain an extensive list of questions to track conditions and behaviors like depression, suicidal ideation, drug use and sexual activity.

In withdrawing from the 2023 questionnaires, Colorado and Idaho, as well as Florida, join Wyoming and a few other states that haven't participated for the last two survey periods.

“I was definitely surprised and a little bit disappointed,” said Franci Crepeau-Hobson, a professor of school psychology at the University of Colorado Denver.

“More states will follow suit, and then we're really going to have a hard time getting a handle on what's happening nationally with our kids in terms of their health risk behaviors," she added. "I know some of the states are saying, ‘Well, it's temporary.’ I don't think it's going to be so temporary.”

Colorado's not participating because it has its own questionnaire that covers many more students. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey was completed by roughly 107,000 teens last year, compared to the less than 14,000 that completed the Youth Risk Behavior survey nationwide in 2019.

Although the questions are very similar between the two surveys, the differences can make the data hard to match.

“You're going to miss some things because some of the questions and items are not exactly the same, and the YRBS might have some different ones than Colorado does,” Crepeau-Hobson said.

Idaho and Florida, meanwhile, reportedly plan to gather more state-specific data with their own surveys, but they've yet to be developed.

With seven states opting out of the 2023 Youth Risk Behavior surveys, Crepeau-Hobson worries we'll lose critical information about how our kids are doing.

“If we don't know that, we can't influence policymakers,” she said. “We can't influence funders and direct prevention efforts at taking care of our kids so that they can learn and they can continue to grow and develop and become healthy, contributing adults. If we're not asking them, how else do you get that information?”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the Mountain West Reporter for KUNC, here to inform you of all the latest news affecting the Mountain West region. From new legislation to climate patterns to invasive species, I'll research what is happening in your backyard—as well as the backyards of neighboring states—and share those stories with you as you go about your day.