OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — More teens in Ottawa County are experiencing feelings of depression and thinking about attempting suicide, health officials said Thursday.

A 2017 survey of more than 4,300 middle and high school students found that nearly 30 percent of teens experienced feelings of depression. Nearly 20 percent of students said they seriously thought about attempting suicide.

Many measures of the youth assessment survey showed positive trends, but depression and suicide did not, said Marcia Mansary, senior epidemiologist for the Ottawa Department of Public Health.

“Kids are having less sex, they’re reporting less substance abuse – why is depression [higher]? Kids actually thinking about suicide and actually taking that step to complete a suicide is going up?” Mansary said. “And we need to talk about that as a community.”

Depression in teens rose from 20.7 percent in the 2009 to 28.9 percent in 2017. Suicidal thoughts and attempts also increased with each survey.

In an increasingly connected and digital world, teens are under more pressure every day, said Leigh Moerdyke. She manages youth development programming at Arbor Circle, a substance abuse and mental health services center in Holland.

“Our teens are really connecting via their social media platforms, via the internet, but they aren’t taking those relationships all the time offline,” Moerdyke said. “They may have 500 followers on Instagram, but they don’t have a lot of those deep relationships that support them when they’re starting to have some of the harder thoughts.”

RELATED: Ottawa County Community Mental Health losing money, serving more

The health department sent the report to multiple community partners to make mental health a bigger priority moving forward, Mansary said.

“We talk about 25,000 kids in that age group: what's 30 percent of 25,000?” she said. “Do we even have that capacity to address depression in that number of kids?"

RELATED: Ottawa County Community Mental Health losing money, serving more

Parents need to start having tough conversations with their children about mental health and depression, Moerdyke said.

“[It’s important to be] talking about what’s going on at school, how they’re handling what’s going on at school or what may be going on [with] their online platforms,” she said. “And just sharing what’s going on with us. What are we doing as parents to make sure we are mentally healthy?”

If you know someone experiencing a mental health emergency you can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. 

Ottawa County also has its own emergency mental health assistance resources: Grand Haven 616-842-HELP (4357) and Holland 616-396-HELP; for all other Ottawa County residents contact 1-866-512-HELP.

You can see the full report here: 

What issue areas affect males and females differently. * Helps evaluate the effectiveness of interventions developed to address pressing and prevalent teen issues. * Ages when teens may engage in risky behaviors for the first time. * Provides the option for school districts to have their own results * New questions in 2017: to compare with Ottawa County as a whole.

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