Every year, the California Department of Education Coordinated School Health and Safety Office administers a survey to public school students in school districts across the state. This annual survey is called the “California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS)”. Officials administer this anonymous and confidential survey to public school students in grades five, seven, nine, and eleven in California. The survey asks students about safety and crime at school, experiences of bullying, academics, mental health, substance use, and more. It also asks how connected they feel to their families and to their school staff. The organization releases the results to the public in November of the following school year.
Although the report targets mainstream students in unified school districts, it includes responses from a small sample of non-traditional school students. Non-traditional (NT) students include those who attend continuation high schools, community schools, or juvenile court schools. In 2019, the organization surveyed 4660 students from NT schools in L.A. County.
The following data shows the percentage of high school students in L.A. County, as a whole, who engage in drug use or experience mental health issues. If your family lives in LA County, the following data might help you get a glimpse of how other teens in your area fare in terms of mental health and substance use. Each column represents the percentage of students in each grade surveyed (grades 7, 9, and 11) who fit the category described.
LA County High School Students – Mental Health and Substance Use Statistics, Overall
|7th Grade (%)
|9th Grade (%)
|11th Grade (%)
|NT Schools (%)
|Current alcohol or drug use*
|Current binge drinking*
|Very drunk or “high” 7 or more times, ever
|Current cigarette smoking*
|Current electronic cigarette use*
|Experienced chronic sadness/hopelessness§
|^In 2015-2017, middle school students were not asked about their suicidal ideation.
*in the past 30 days
§ within the past 12 months
What the Report Means For Our Teens
Here’s what we see as the most significant big-picture takeaways from this data:
- LA County school students report chronic sadness and hopelessness more than any other mental health concern
- Alcohol and drug use increases as students get older
- Non-traditional (NT) students report higher rates of substance use and mental health issues than peers in traditional schools.
In some cases, NT students were twice as likely to binge drink, get drunk, or use drugs. H. Chan, the Education Programs Consultant at the California Dept of Education, writes that “NT students generally have more known risk factors, and are found to engage in more risky health behaviors such as substance use.”
Diving Deeper Into the Numbers
Taking a closer look at the data, we also think these points are important to note:
- Female teens were more likely to respond that they experienced mental health and substance use issues than their male peers.
- Teens who reported substance use in the survey also reported lower levels of academic achievement. Researchers write that “Substance use and intoxication at school, being offered drugs at school, and lifetime intoxication, were significantly related to changes in California achievement test scores one year later.”
- Those who reported chronic sadness or contemplations of suicide also reported lower school attendance, performance, and connectedness at school.
- They also report lower rates of feeling supported at school or in their communities.
- Students who report being harassed or bullied at school are almost twice as likely to experience chronic sadness/hopelessness than their non-bullied peers.
- Students who are harassed for their sexual identity (LGBTQ+) or disabilities reported poorer overall well-being than students harassed for other reasons.
We recommend that anyone directly involved in the life of a teenager in LA County read and understand these yearly reports. School officials, teachers, counselors, coaches, parents, and people who volunteer for after-school programs should all understand what teens say they’re going through. This report says many feel sad and hopeless – more teens reported that than alcohol and drug use. Professionals working with teens – especially those experiencing a turbulent adolescence – should consider this as a direct request for help: if our teens feel sad and hopeless, we can help them. From simple support to professional treatment for mood disorders, adults have knowledge and resources teens don’t – and sharing those resources can make a big difference.
SOURCE: Los Angeles County. California Healthy Kids Survey, 2015-2017: Main Report. San Francisco: WestEd Health and Justice Program for the California Department of Education.