PUTNAM COUNTY - A survey of Putnam County students show decreases in many major issues facing youth after a five year initiative.

The Putnam County Educational Service Center(PCESC) recently ended their five year coalition known as Safe Schools Healthy Students Initiative. The half-decade effort was aimed at students across the county.

The program targeted first graders through high school seniors through media outlets, workshops, speakers and interventions. Throughout the five year period students were surveyed in order to track the county's progress. The series of questions were broken down into three sections- mental health, alcohol/tobacco/drug use and bullying. For each section two surveys were issued. The first being the "SAFE" survey which was conducted each year (Nov. 2008-2012) for all students. The second survey is known as the "PRIDE" survey which was conducted Nov. 2008, 2010 and 2012 for grades four, six, eight, ten and twelve.

Dr. Stacey Rychener, a grant specialist for Bowling Green State University's Center for Evaluation Services, was brought in to evaluate the data collected from both surveys over the five year coalition.

The first portion of the evaluation focused on Mental Health. According to Rychener most of the data indicates the county coming in under national averages.
A question asked was "Do you ever feel sad or hopeless?" This question is important, says Rychener, because it is close to the definition of depression.

"Your county had about 13 percent of the students say they were sad or depressed," said Rychener. "Eleven percent said they have seriously considered suicide."

Though Rychener stressed to attempt and lower this percentage, the county sees itself on the right track.

"The national average is rarely below 15 percent and is usually around 17 percent," said Rychener. "Something to work on but you are on the right track."

Similarly, six percent admitted to cutting themselves and two percent have abused prescription drugs. Over the course of the five year study, the use of bath salts (the slang term for a family of designer drugs often containing substituted cathinones, which have effects similar to amphetamine and cocaine) has all but diminished since their ban by the state of Ohio. Since the ban, the use of bath salts is one percent.

When questioned about relationship abuse, the numbers remained steady over the study but low.

"Five percent of students said their boyfriend or girlfriend hit or slapped them on purpose," said Rychener. "The national level comes in at around nine percent."

Also included in this section were questions pertaining to reckless behavior.

"When asked if they have ridden in a vehicle with someone who had been drinking, 22 percent said they have," said Rychener. "That is the same level as the year before."

In an area where the county saw a decrease is reckless driving. The county went from eight percent to five of students admitting to drinking and driving. When asked if they have ridden in a car while someone texted while driving, the percentage dropped from 62 to 57. Also going down was students texting while driving from 32 to 27 percent.

Students who "had no one to talk to" dropped over the five-year span by 140 students.

The study also shows that students who report that they are considering suicide are 66 percent as likely to use alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and meth. A large issues in the county as well as nation wide is preventing drug use as a stress or depression coping mechanism.

An important aspect to students well being is feeling safe at school. Rychener described what she called "hot spots" which are areas in school where children do not feel safe.

"There are a variety of different places known as hot spots," said Rychener. "These include playgrounds, parking lots, school bus and other areas. All of the hot spots in your county have been cut in half. In other words, in these areas, the amount of students who reported that they did not feel safe there has been cut in half in all the areas."

Rychener attributed the county's many new schools and bus cameras as the main reason for the reduction.