One of the most gratifying aspects of my job as TeenScreen’s Schools and Communities program manager is meeting with school mental health personnel who share our commitment to youth. I am always impressed with the vigor and dedication of these professionals, particularly during times of budget constraints.
One area of growing concern is the abuse of both prescribed medications and illegal substances among young people. Recent reports show a sharp increase in the use of some illegal substances among teenagers, and a report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that one in three youth ages 12 and older developed a substance use disorder with prescription painkillers.
We know from research that that there is a strong link between substance abuse and mental health problems. Young people who suffer from depression are three times more likely to abuse drugs than those without depression. And, substance abuse can actually increase the risk of developing a mental disorder.
Teens with substance abuse disorders are at a higher risk of dropping out of school, getting involved in criminal activity, and of accidental death. They can become chronic; youth who become addicted tend to struggle with the problem throughout their lives.
The mental health professionals who work in schools know the issues, but they also know that making a difference is challenging. Mental health problems and substance abuse can be difficult for parents to detect and teens are rarely forthcoming.
School mental health professionals tell me they see a solution in greater communication with family and other health providers so that the school can properly support students. And we agree. TeenScreen can often play a role in providing vital information about a teen’s mental health to parents and providers. Many schools around the country work with our program to help facilitate awareness and openness.
By identifying mental heath concerns early on, we can potentially avoid an escalating substance abuse problem, or detect substance abuse outright and work with teens, parents and professionals to get teens the help they need.
The more school psychologists and other professionals in the field can create venues for schools, teens, families and community members to communicate with one another, the better the outcome for everyone involved. TeenScreen welcomes the opportunity to be a part of this effort.