Iowa Youth Survey: Suicide Risk and E-Cigarette Use Climbing; Alcohol Use Declines

Benton County Public Health Director, Melissa Smith, RN, BSN is making the public aware of information recently released by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) containing insight into current behaviors by the youth in our communities.

The IDPH 2018 Iowa Youth Survey (IYS) shows in general, underage drinking continues to decline. Alcohol use among Iowa 11th graders was down from 26.4 percent in 2012 to 20.4 percent in 2018. Binge drinking fell from 19.2 percent in 2012 to 12.0 percent in 2018. An exception to the overall decline came among eighth graders, who reported a significant increase in drinking from 2016 to 2018, from 5.4 percent in 2016 to 7.3 percent in 2018 – a level not seen since 2012.

In multiple questions on suicide, Iowa youth reported increasing rates from previous surveys. Overall, the percentage of students who reported having a plan to kill themselves increased by 53 percent from 2012 to 2018. One in 10 students reported having a plan and 1 in 20 reported a suicide attempt within the past year.

Tobacco use appears similar to other substance use, remaining stable or declining from previous surveys. The exception to this is e-cigarettes. Almost one-quarter of 11th-grade students (23 percent) reported the use of e-cigarettes in the past month on the 2018 IYS, along with 8 percent of eighth graders and 2 percent of sixth graders.

“The Iowa Youth Survey gives us a glimpse into the lives of our young people,” said IDPH IYS coordinator Pat McGovern. “While the answers represent a moment in time and do not give a complete view of the pre-teen and teenage mindset, they do give us a glimpse into their actions and beliefs. This enables us to tailor our programming and services in the most effective ways.”

Melissa Smith adds, “Stressful life events, financial and otherwise, have a significant impact on those vulnerable to suicide where typical coping strategies are weakened by the effects of mental illness, substance abuse, and a host of other risk factors associated with suicide. Too often, the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide both deter and prevent many people from getting the necessary resources and care that they need.

With a community approach to acknowledge and address this serious problem, preventing suicide is within our reach. The Benton County Wellness Coalition is bringing together individuals and organizations from our communities with the mission to directly impact the consequences that come from mental illness, substance abuse, suicide and other negative wellness conditions that plague our lives.  The foundation of our efforts is built on the understanding that the healing of any community comes from within the community.”

If you are feeling suicidal or are concerned about someone else, please contact Your Life Iowa by calling (855) 581-8111, texting (855)895-8398, or using the online chat function at

In 2018, 70,451 students representing 68 percent of Iowa’s 330 public school districts participated in the IYS. The 2018 IYS is the 17th in a series of surveys that have been completed every two or three years since 1975. The survey is conducted with Iowa public and private students in grades 6, 8, and 11. The IYS includes questions about students’ behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, as well as their perceptions of peer, family, school, neighborhood and community environments. The Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation generates the IYS reports. To view the 2018 report and other information about the IYS, visit