Since 2009, more kids in Duval County’s middle and high schools say they’ve been the victims of bullying, and more local children say they have considered or attempted suicide.
Those are just some of the revelations in the Duval County Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The report, which analyzes the results of more than 4,800 middle school students and more than 3,500 high school students surveyed last year, was unveiled at WJCT studios Thursday morning.
The surveys are part of a larger effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get detailed information about youth health behaviors on the First Coast.
Along with bullying and suicide statistics, the report also shows big declines in students fighting, alcohol and tobacco use and sexual activity.
Denise Marzullo, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida, joined Melissa Ross to discuss the results.
"It's not really a surprise," Marzullo said when asked about the bullying and suicide stats.
In 2009, a third of city middle school students surveyed said they had been bullied on school property. In this latest report, 42.1 percent of those surveyed reported being bullied. A smaller increase was reported by high school students—from 16.3 percent in 2009 to 19.3 percent last year.
Marzullo said she is actually pleased with the increases, since they signal that more students are reporting bullying. She attributed the increased reporting to the district's anonymous bullying hotline and bullying prevention programs.
"I think that those lines of communication are starting to open up. I don't think necessarily think there are more incidents of bullying, I just think we're now more aware of it," she said.
Among the numbers that concern Marzullo the most are those on suicide. In middle school, 24.3 percent of students surveyed said they thought about suicide, up from 21.5 percent in 2009. Nearly a third of middle school girls, 32 percent, reported thinking about suicide.
"Out of every four students then, one has thought seriously about attempting suicide, and those numbers are really scary," she said.
Marzullo attributed the numbers to several factors, including a high military population and the proliferation of cyber bullying via social media.
Marzullo said there is some good news regarding stats on fighting, drug use, and sexual activity having gone down.
For high schoolers, 32.6 percent of those surveyed said they currently use alcohol, down from 38.8 percent in 2009 and 35.6 percent in 2011. About 30 percent of high school students also reported being sexually active, down from 37 and 36 percent in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
"I definitely think that our youth are starting to kind of come around and get some of the awareness about some of the effects of drug and alcohol abuse," she said. "We're definitely getting there, we're making some progress."