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Mental Health and Substance Use Services: Meeting Kids Where They Are

About one in five teens suffers from a mental health condition. (anitapeppers/Morguefile)
About one in five teens suffers from a mental health condition. (anitapeppers/Morguefile)
November 7, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio schools educate students about the dangers of substance use, but some districts are going beyond typical prevention services by bringing mental health providers on board.

In the Dublin School System, clinicians with Syntero counseling are working in each building one-on-one with students and in group settings.

Sara Harrison-Mills, director of Youth and Prevention Programs at Syntero, says mental health conditions can put a student at risk for substance use, and offering services at school for both can improve outcomes in the long run.

"We want to create a society of people that have emotional wellness and are able to be productive,” she states. “And providing these services within the school setting helps to meet kids where they are and it helps to decrease barriers, and overall our goal is also to reduce stigma."

Harrison-Mills says counselors are helping students learn healthy coping strategies to manage issues including depression, anxiety, self-injury and stress, as well as educating kids about the risks of underage drinking and drug use.

Data shows about 1-in-5 children has a mental health condition, about half of high school seniors have used a drug of some sort and nearly 70 percent have consumed alcohol.

UHCAN Ohio advocates for improved access to substance use screening and mental health providers in schools. Executive director Steve Wagner says early prevention and consistent education are crucial because children who use drugs or alcohol at an early age are more likely to become addicted.

"We're really trying to prevent that beginning of addictive behavior, and unfortunately there are a number of children that end up beginning to use substances in those middle school ages," he states.

The partnership between Syntero and Dublin Schools is in its fourth year, which Harrison-Mills says has been beneficial for students, families and the community.

"We've seen students report increased ability to not only recognize but also effectively use healthy coping strategies,” she says. “We've seen a reduction in concerns related to mental health symptoms and substance use as well as increased knowledge related to the harm and the risk associated with use.”

Harrison-Mills encourages other districts to develop strong partnerships in the community that can help bring both mental health and substance use services into schools.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH