Explosion of mental health, academic problems among Minnesota students

MDH said the survey results demonstrated an "unprecedented amount of long-term mental health, behavioral, or emotional problems."

mental health

Results of the 2022 Minnesota Student Survey have revealed that increasing numbers of middle and high school students are struggling with depression, anxiety, and poor “educational engagement.”

Conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) every three years, the anonymous survey asks fifth-, eighth-, ninth-, and 11th-grade students various questions about their physical and mental health, bullying, school environment, and alcohol and drug use.

In a press release the day before Christmas Eve, the MDH said the survey results demonstrated an “unprecedented amount of long-term mental health, behavioral, or emotional problems” and blamed the effects of the COVID pandemic.

“It will take more research to know the interplay of all the factors, but it is clear that this is a crisis, and Minnesotans, lawmakers and families need to focus resources and attention in and outside of schools to give our children and their families the connections, supports, stable environments and opportunities they need for a sense of well-being about their lives and futures,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.

Minnesota students who took the survey are increasingly struggling with physical and emotional challenges, particularly girls.

29% of all respondents reported long-term mental health problems, up from 23% three years ago and from 18% in 2016. But almost half of 11th-grade girls (45%), for instance, are dealing with such long-term problems, up from 27% in 2016.

Girls were more likely to report poor general health than boys, indicated by lesser rates of fruit and vegetable consumption, and an increased likelihood of skipping lunch or getting inadequate sleep.

Minnesota students reported more difficulties with “educational engagement” as well. Since 2013, there has been a 15% drop in 11th-graders (75% to 60%) who reported adequate academic performance, preparation, and engagement during class, among other criteria.

The survey data also reveals a decline in feeling “valued and appreciated,” though the sentiment that teachers genuinely care about their students has remained high: 95% among fifth-graders, 86% among eighth- and ninth-graders, and 88% among 11th-graders.

An additional finding revealed that about 11% of eighth-grade students now identify as transgender or are unsure about their gender, with 63% of this group reporting long-term mental health issues.

The number of students experiencing suicidal thoughts has increased from 24% in 2019 to 28% in 2022.

Although mental and physical health problems have increased, the state has nevertheless seen a decline in the number of students who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and marijuana.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement that the survey data “reveals a clear picture of the continuing need to support student mental and behavioral health.”

The survey itself has been a source of controversy at the state capitol, with some Republican lawmakers objecting to its intrusive sexual questions and calling for more oversight of its administration.


Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.