Sophomores and seniors recently took the Fairfax County Public Schools Youth Survey, which aims to gain information about student wellbeing. Last year’s data, available on the FCPS website, yielded the highest rates of depressive tendencies in a decade.
Though the Youth Survey is anonymous, students do take non-anonymous mental health surveys at the beginning and end of the school year. However, senior Lizzy Windt said giving parents and teachers access to student responses could be problematic.
“Students don’t want their parents to know about what’s going on with them mentally, especially teachers,” Windt said. “It feels invasive, and they are scared something might happen to them if it gets out.”
Windt said this fear of repercussions impacts how students answer.
“I think if you ask most people at the school, they probably lie,” Windt said.
Sophomore Emerson Karimi agreed.
“When you’re giving an honest answer, that could change the way that people see you, or it can change the way that you see yourself,” Karimi said.
Karimi just took the Youth Survey, and said he suspects anonymous surveys are not immune to untruthful responses either.
“Even for the anonymous surveys, it still feels kind of weird answering honestly, even if you know that no one is going to see it,” Karimi said.
Due to this problem, Karimi said there could be discrepancies in the data FCPS collects from surveys like the Youth Survey.
“I don’t think that the results can be trusted too much because I feel like there is a good portion of people who are just not answering honestly,” Karimi said.
Still, junior Jonathan Larkin said there could be some value in the information collected, even if it’s limited.
“I imagine [students] are sort of just bending the truth,” Larkin said. “Like, instead of saying that they have suicidal thoughts they are saying they have negative thoughts. So I think it still shows a negative direction in students’ mental health, but it’s understated.”
Windt said a lack of truthful answers prevents effective county response.
“Without students being honest, they can’t really get the help they would want or need,” Windt said.
Windt also said this help is needed due to the stress of academics at Marshall—and she urges staff to “take notes” on this issue.
“A lot of students feel like they need to do the IB Diploma or take a bunch of IB classes to succeed,” Windt said. “That is causing a lot of stress, lack of sleep and mental health problems.”
Last year, 38.1% of respondents claimed they felt sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row according to the FCPS website.
The results of this year’s Youth Survey have not been released yet, and it is unclear whether the prevalence of depression will change this year.