The Bangor School Department wants to know what it can do to improve student mental health. But first he needs data on the well-being of his students.
That’s why an advisory group is recommending that Bangor students for the first time participate in a statewide student health survey that the Bangor School Department has long refused to participate in. An advisory group focused on student mental health made the recommendation Wednesday to the Bangor School Board.
If the Bangor School District takes the team on its recommendation to participate in the Maine Comprehensive Youth Health Survey, it would mean a face for Maine’s fourth-largest school district.
Bangor is one of about two dozen Maine school districts whose students have traditionally not participated in the anonymous, semiannual survey that asks students about a wide variety of topics, including tobacco and drug use, drinking, sexual activity, exercise and diet. bullying and general health. The survey also asks students questions such as whether they have ever thought about killing themselves.
Bangor’s lack of involvement means the school division doesn’t know how well the behavior and health of the city’s students match those of students elsewhere in Maine.
When it comes to student mental health issues, this lack of information has made it difficult for the school department and mental health counseling team to know what students may be struggling with and how to best help them.
“We realized that we don’t know what’s going on with our kids when it comes to mental health,” said Dr. Clare Mundell, a school board member and clinical psychologist who also serves on the advisory board;
Two years ago, statewide research showed that e-cigarette use by Maine students had doubled over two years, but there was no local data showing the extent to which Bangor students’ behavior aligned with the numbers across the state.
“If you look at the tobacco issue that we deal with, every college kid that I work with is addicted to nicotine and it started in high school,” Mundell said. “THE [Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey] would give us that data.”
According to 2019 survey results, about 28 percent of Penobscot County students reported drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in the past 30 days, and nearly 41 percent of Penobscot County students reported having used electronic vaping products at some point moment, according to the results of the 2019 survey. .
About 16 percent of students in Penobscot County had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past month, according to 2019 survey results.
Bangor High School was the only high school in Greater Bangor whose students did not participate. Former Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb said in 2019 that the school division relied on other sources of information to monitor student health and well-being.
While school board members and department administrators are interested in offering the voluntary survey, school administrators have questions about how to conduct it and how students could opt out, said department spokesman Ray Phinney. . The school division wants to answer those questions before deciding whether to participate, he said.
There are four versions of the survey that make it suitable for students in kindergarten through high school, though Phinney said the Bangor School Department does not yet know what grades will be given on the survey if Bangor chooses to participate.
Despite the persistent questions, Bangor Superintendent James Tagger said he sees value in offering the survey because it would show the department what students are dealing with and how to offer help.
“I think it’s important to do that, and we want to get reliable data,” Tager said. “If it helps kids, I’ll support it.”
Tager said he wants students to be able to opt out of the survey because he is concerned that students’ personal questions may bring up some trauma, past or present. That concern, however, doesn’t change the department’s willingness to participate, he said.
There is no evidence that simply asking students about health risk behaviors will encourage them to try that behavior, according to the Maine departments of Education and Health and Human Services, which jointly administered the survey.