DANVILLE — The good news: Fewer Vermilion County high school students are drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, attempting suicide, and using unhealthy methods to lose weight.
What's still troubling: More of them are abusing over-the-counter and prescription medicine. Many are dealing with bullying, poor body image and depression. And many are deliberately harming themselves as a way to deal with their feelings.
The latest I Sing the Body Electric survey, conducted in 2012, was expanded to gauge other risky behaviors that today's teens engage in, such as cyberbulling, sexting, distracted driving and using synthetic drugs.
On Thursday, program coordinator Dottie McLaughlin released the results of the biennial survey, taken by 2,810 students from Vermilion County high schools, roughly 70 percent, last year. She said the numbers underscore the need for the health education and prevention initiative, which uses art to communicate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and encourage youth to make healthy decisions.
"The vast majority of our high school students are making very good decisions," McLaughlin said at a news conference attended by officials from the Presence United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation, which runs the program, and community partners.
But many are dealing with family problems, substance abuse, eating disorders and depression, and many are making poor choices that could have long-lasting effects.
"We must never give up on them. We must talk about and collaborate on what we can do as a community to help our youth really be productive citizens for the rest of their lives."
Run in collaboration with Danville Area Community College, Danville schools, the Vermilion County Health Department and others, the program has three phases. The first is the survey, which pinpoints the most prevalent risk factors affecting youth's health and well-being.
McLaughlin noted some positive changes since the survey was first given in 2002:
— A 39.3 percent decrease in teens who drink and drive, and a 37.5 percent decrease in those who binge drink.
— An 18.7 percent decrease in teens who have tried marijuana, and a 62.7 percent decrease in those who have tried methamphetamine.
— A 20.8 percent decrease in teens who actually attempt suicide. While it decreased to 11.8 percent, McLaughlin pointed out that's still higher than the national percentage of 7.8.
She also pointed out continuing and new concerns:
— 16.3 percent reported taking prescription drugs not intended for them, an increase since 2008, the first year that question was asked.
— 17.7 percent of teens have used a synthetic drug, which mimics the effects of marijuana, or bath salts, which mimic the effects of cocaine or methamaphetamine.
— 52.7 percent of females and 35.6 percent of males have been bullied at school.
— 34.7 percent said someone spread a rumor about them online or via email or text message; 40.1 percent received threatening or aggressive emails or text messages; and 16 percent have had a sexually explicit photo of themselves posted online by themselves or someone else.
— 44.3 percent of females and 30 percent of males reported depression, both figures higher since 2002.
— 33.8 percent of females and 18.4 percent of males reported deliberately cutting or hurting themselves, up from 2008.
The second phase challenges high school students to create art projects that express their attitudes about health issues. In the final phase, art projects are taken to area schools, businesses and community events for public viewing.
This year's tour will kick off at an I Sing the Body Electric arts and health festival from 1 to 4 p.m. May 5 at DACC, 2000 E. Main St., Danville.
The art projects allow teens to express their feelings in a healthy way and build their self-esteem, McLaughlin said. And the pieces speak to the young viewers, who realize they're not alone in their feelings and don't have to turn to harmful behavior as an outlet.
"You're seeing the bared soul of a student who may never tell you what is on her mind or his mind," Danville school Superintendent Mark Denman said of the artwork, which he said "allows a person to cry out for help and, perhaps, help others."
McLaughlin recalled meeting a sixth-grader at North Ridge Middle School who revealed she had been cutting her arms. McLaughlin spoke to the girl's teacher, who took her to the school counselor. Two weeks later, the girl emailed McLaughlin to share that she had started seeing a counselor regularly and stopped cutting herself.
"That is the power of these projects," said McLaughlin, who choked up as she talked about the need to reach more children like her.
Community partners said they will use the survey results to help them plan programs and provide services to area youth.
"It really provides a lot of insight into that population," said Shirley Hicks, administrator of the health department, which includes some of the data in its Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Need plan, done every five years. She added some of the information is really hard to collect.
The entire 70-page survey is and program information is available at http://www.presencehealth.org/ising.