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Mental Disorders and Addictions in a School Setting

Jo Ann Green

Reprinted from "Concurrent Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (1), p. 57

Secondary school communities provide youth with a microcosm of their community at large. High school provides a venue not only for academic achievement, but also for learning skills with which to navigate life. Schools partner with other community agencies to educate and raise awareness around many issues. Mental health and substance misuse are two priorities addressed, often by the school counselling department, through career and personal planning curriculum and through external partnerships. This article describes some local initiatives and resources that are available to address mental issues, including concurrent disorders, in young people.

Community Initiatives and Resources

One important initiative started in April 2000, when Vancouver Community Mental Health Services, BC’s Children’s Hospital, Vancouver/Richmond Health Board, Vancouver School Board and Ministry for Children and Families laid out the Protocol for Managing Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Emergencies in Vancouver, a copy of which can be obtained through Vancouver Community Mental Health Services.

Other resources come through community agencies, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, which provides excellent handouts and information useful in educating school personnel and/or for use in classroom education. The Early Psychosis Identification and Intervention (EPI) project was a province-wide initiative that produced excellent material for youth-oriented awareness-raising through posters and pamphlets as well as written material. Contact Canadian Mental Health Association across BC at 1-800-555-8222 or check out the Info Centre at www.cmha.ca. Also, see the website of the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society at www.bcss.org. Another related website which includes information on child and youth mental health issues, including early psychosis, is provided by the Mental Health Evaluation and Community Consultation Unit at UBC, which coordinated the EPI project. It can be found at www.mheccu.ubc.ca

When it comes to raising awareness, theatre presentations can provide an interesting interactive way to impart information. Currently a one-woman show called Spiralling Within is touring BC and Canada. The production is written and acted by a talented and courageous young woman (Siobhan McCarthy) who portrays the journey of self discovery initiated by her mental illness, the confusion of finding the right medication, and the struggle of self-medication with club drugs. The play ends with the hope of recovery through the balance of medication and holistic self-care. It’s possible to arrange a production for your school. See whoareyoucallingcrazy.com. In Vancouver, Youth Net, a youth organization funded to provide mental health awarenessraising is helping coordinate the talk back that follows the play.

School-Based Resources

A great number of resources exist within the schools themselves. For example, many school districts have alcohol and drug prevention counsellors or addiction youth counsellors, either in the school or available through a community agency, for consultation, education and/or early intervention. Vancouver Coastal Health Authority also employs a youth counsellor for concurrent disorder clients; contact information may be accessed through www.kaiserfoundation.ca.

Safety and trust are important qualities to foster in a school environment – trust that the environment is one in which it is safe to seek help and where there is a willingness find youth-appropriate support and referral. General education around mental health, as well as alcohol and drug information help raise awareness, and encourage students to self-refer or to alert staff about concerns for a friend. In Vancouver, CART – the Children and Adolescent Response Team run out of Vancouver Community Mental Health Services at (604) 874-2300 – provides excellent assessment and referral services if a dual diagnosis issue seems apparent. Early interventions in mental health and/or alcohol and drug issues will hopefully ensure those issues have less severe impact and prevent long-term effect.

If a school creates educated, healthy, helpful, socially responsible school communities, then youth will carry that learning experience to the community at large. Teaching our youth to seek help and network with others is a skill invaluable in all aspects of life.

 
About the Author

Jo Ann is a Prevention Counsellor at Templeton High School in Vancouver

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