We’re helping island youth, but there’s more work to be done

Despite significant progress, several areas of concern remain.

In 2009, a group of community members and professionals dedicated to youth wellness formed the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) to support youth behavioral health and address concerning rates of youth substance use along with the associated high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

With support on federal, state, county and local levels, VARSA provides a variety of prevention programs and curricula both within our schools and in the larger community. We bring evidenced-based trainings for school staff in Trauma-Informed Care and Motivational Interviewing, tenth-grade Teen Mental Health First Aid course, and Guiding Good Choices parent skills program, along with clubs for students that include Sources of Strength at VHS and McMurray Middle School, and Teens Leading Change at VHS.

The Friday evening activities at the Recess Lab are also VARSA-supported activities just for middle school youth. We also bring community events such as the recent “Screenagers: Under the Influence” film, and presentations by the Liquor and Cannabis Board, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and others.

The recently published bi-annual Washington State Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) suggests that this work is paying off.

  • Youth alcohol and marijuana use is at a 20-year low, although still significantly higher than the statewide average;
  • The vast majority (over 90%) of students report feeling safe at school and have opportunities for involvement in a variety of school activities;
  • The vast majority (almost 90%) of students report feeling hopeful about their future;
  • Most students (greater than 75%) also report that they have a trusted adult in the community who they can turn to in a time of need.

However, there remain areas of concern:

  • The proportion of youth (nearly 30%) who experience significant levels of anxiety and depression or have contemplated suicide (15%);
  • The number of youth (greater than 30% of 12th graders) who report binge drinking;
  • The number of youth (approximately 30%) who report riding with a driver who has been drinking or using marijuana;
  • The increasing rates of vaping with 10% of 10th graders, 20% of 11th graders, and 30% of 12th graders reporting vaping in the past 30 days.

We still have work to do.

VARSA will continue this important work, partnering with King County, Vashon Island School District, Vashon Youth and Family Services, Journeymen/One Village, Neighborcare Health, the DOVE Project, Open Space Orbit program and other community providers along with parents to support and improve the health and wellness of the youth in our community.

Scott Rice is the VARSA Board President. Paul Tegenfeldt represents the Parent Sector on the VARSA Board.