The most recent data on substance use and mental health issues among Contra Costa County residents is from 2015/2016. That’s the last year that Contra Costa, countywide, participated in the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS).
Contra Costa County includes the following cities and towns:
- El Cerrito
- Pleasant Hill
- San Pablo
- San Ramon
- Walnut Creek
The CHKS is a statewide survey coordinated by the California Department of Education Coordinated School Health and Safety Office. This department administers the anonymous, confidential survey to public school students every year. 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 school staff. The organization releases the results to the public in November of the following school year.
Although the report mainly targets mainstream students in unified school districts, it also includes the responses of 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.
The following data shows the percentage of high school students in the County, as a whole, who engage in drug use or experience mental health issues. If your family lives in Contra Costa County, the following data gives you a glimpse of how other teens in your area fare in terms of mental health and substance use.
Contra Costa County High School Students – Mental Health and Substance Use Statistics, Overall Percentages (2015-2016)
|7th Grade||9th Grade||11th Grade||NT|
|Current alcohol or drug use*||5||17||32||48|
|Current binge drinking*||1||5||14||20|
|Very drunk or “high” 7 or more times, ever||1||6||17||36|
|Current cigarette smoking*||1||2||3||16|
|Experienced chronic sadness/hopelessness§||20||27||30||35|
|^ middle school students were not asked about their suicidal ideation.
*in the past 30 days
§ within the past 12 months
Teen Drug Use and Suicide in Contra Costa County: Analysis
Here are the key points we see in this data:
- Almost 10% of 9th graders in Contra Costa County have tried marijuana four or more times. For 11th graders, that rate increases to 22%.
- 10% of freshmen and 29% of juniors admit to recent heavy alcohol use (4 or more full drinks in the past 30 days.)
- Non-traditional students report higher levels of substance use and mental health issues than traditional school peers. In some cases, NT students were several times more likely to drink alcohol or use drugs.
- The only category in which NT students showed lower numbers than mainstream students was in suicidal ideation. NT students were about 1% less likely to consider thoughts of suicide.
- 11th graders’ alcohol usage is the most obvious substance use or mental health problem in Contra Costa County overall. 32% of juniors admit to current alcohol use.
- The second most problematic issue is chronic sadness and hopelessness. 30% of 11th graders and 27% of 9th graders reported feeling constantly sad and hopeless in the past year.
With regards to the higher drug use numbers for NT students, H. Chan, the Education Programs Consultant at the California Dept of Education, wrote that “NT students generally have more known risk factors, and found to engage in more risky health behaviors such as substance use.”
Preventing Suicide and Addressing Mental Health Issues
Two agencies are tackling mental health and substance abuse issues in the county.
First, the Contra Costa Suicide Prevention Committee developed the county’s Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan in 2013. This plan has three primary goals:
- Raise community awareness about the causes of suicide and those at risk
- Decrease stigma around mental health issues
- Develop more resources that will help lower suicide rates in the county.
Second, the Contra Costa Crisis Center serves residents with mental health issues. Based in Walnut Creek, this nonprofit provides emergency crisis/mental health services to anyone in need, 24/7. Its many services include an anonymous, free mental health hotline (residents can call 211 or text ‘HOPE’ to 20121 to speak immediately to a trained counselor) as well as field-based rapid response teams.
The Crisis Center often sends out mental health counselors to schools and businesses in the county immediately following a death, shooting, suicide, or other disaster. Following a school suicide, for example, the center provides training to school administrators and staff on how to speak with students about the trauma and reduce the likelihood of copycat behavior. The Crisis Center also works with other agencies (such as the Contra Costa Suicide Prevention Committee, above) on initiatives to prevent suicide on a countywide scale.