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Health Department wants to address concerning trends among Morgan County youth

Mar 16, 2023 11:48AM ● By Linda Petersen

Youth in Morgan County seem to have fewer struggles with underage substance abuse and mental health challenges such as incidence of suicide and depression than those in Weber County and across the state, Susanna Birch of the Weber Human Services Department told Morgan County commissioners March 7. The Weber-Morgan Health Department serves both counties.

“Morgan, when compared to Weber County, does much better,” Birch said. “The rates for consumption of substances are lower than Weber County. They’re lower for a lot of the mental health things.”

Still, recent data has indicated that the health department is seeing some trends in Morgan County that are concerning, she said. “Even though you are lower, you’re seeing an unhealthy change. When you look at the healthy places index, Morgan is at the top of the list, but there are still concerns.” 

Statistics of Morgan youth from the most recent Student Health and Risk Prevention survey indicate that 46.6 percent of them feel they are being inadequately supervised by the adults in their lives, for example. The state percentage is 35.7 percent. (The survey is given every two years, to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12.)

The percentage of local youth struggling with depression is increasing, Birch said. In 2017, 10 percent of Morgan sixth grade students surveyed felt sad or helpless for two or more weeks in a given year. In the latest survey results available from 2021, that figure had increased to 19.2 percent. 

“That’s matching the state trend, but it’s still concerning to me when nearly 20 percent of sixth graders feel sad or helpless for more than two weeks in a year,” Birch said. “That’s something to consider.”

Also, abuse of prescription medication among Morgan youth matches the state rate. While those figures [of abuse within 30 days prior to the survey] are very low at between 1.8 and 2.4 percent depending on the age of the respondents, it is surprising and concerning, Birch said.

Birch suggested that by hiring a local Morgan resident at 27 hours a week to act as a coordinator of local community efforts, it would be possible to put together a coalition of local parents, educators, medical professionals and others to work to address these trends.

“It’s important for you guys to have a local staff here in Morgan County that is someone who is from Morgan County working toward advocating for the best practices or best prevention that this community needs,” Birch said.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department has some funds that could help make that happen but would need some local contribution to hire that person. Birch asked commissioners to consider putting the portion Morgan County receives of the state opioid settlement (last year, that figure was $14,000) towards funding the position. Weber Health Services would help the coalition with grant writing and other resources, she said.

In response, commissioners indicated they had not yet had a chance to determine the best use of those funds going forward. They would take the health department’s request under advisement, they said.

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