Today, as we observe World Mental Health Day, let’s shine a light on an often-overlooked issue – the intersection between youth mental health and substance use. In a world where young people face numerous challenges, understanding this complex relationship is important. When parents, caregivers, and other caring adults reach out and support youth experiencing mental health and substance use challenges, we make a difference in their lives.
Helping someone doesn’t always mean referring them to a clinician. Mental Health First Aid is a skills-based training course that teaches people to identify, understand, and respond to mental health and substance use challenges for youth, adolescents, and adults. Listen to our recent podcast with Suzanne Weete from Community Partners NH to learn more about Mental Health First Aid.
The Partnership @drugfreeNH is dedicated to the prevention of substance use and misuse, and on this World Mental Health Day, we aim to provide resources and insights for parents and caregivers, equipping them with the tools they need to support their children’s mental well-being.
The Landscape of Youth Mental Health
Youth mental health is an increasingly pressing concern across the country, with many experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. In NH, data from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) showed that 44% of youth felt sad or hopeless almost everyday for two weeks or more.The pressures of academic achievement, social dynamics, and the transition to adulthood can be overwhelming. These challenges can push some young people to explore unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance use, as a way to temporarily escape emotional pain.
Understanding the Intersection
The connection between mental health and substance use is complex. Many young people turn to substances like alcohol, cannabis/marijuana, or prescription drugs as a way to self-medicate, seeking temporary relief from their emotional struggles. This self-medicating behavior can create a dangerous cycle, as substance use can worsen mental health issues over time.
The Vicious Cycle
- Temporary Relief: Substances can provide a temporary escape from pain or distress. The initial euphoria or numbing effect can be attractive to young people.
- Escalation: Over time, the need for more significant doses or more potent substances may develop as the individual’s tolerance increases. This can lead to a deeper dependence on the substance, and eventually a substance use disorder (SUD).
- Mental Health Decline: Substance use can worsen mental health conditions. For example, alcohol and drugs can worsen anxiety and depression, leading to a vicious cycle of self-destructive behavior.
- Isolation and Stigma: As substance use intensifies, it can often lead to social isolation and increased stigma, which can further harm an individual’s mental health.
Prevention and Intervention
As parents and caregivers, we have a strong influence on how substance use is perceived and managed by young people. When it comes to addressing and preventing the intersection between youth mental health and substance use, there a variety of methods:
- Open Communication: Parents and caregivers must create a safe space for open and honest conversations about mental health and substance use. Encourage your children to express their feelings without judgment. Check out our ‘Parents & Caregivers’ webpage for more ways to keep the youth in your life safe.
- Education: It’s crucial to educate yourself and young people about the risks of substance use and how it can impact mental health. Knowledge is a powerful tool in prevention. Check out our ‘Get the Facts’ webpage for information on a variety of substances.
- Early Intervention: If you suspect that your child is struggling with their mental health or substance use, seek professional help as early as possible. Early intervention can prevent problems from worsening.
- Supportive Environment: Foster a supportive and nurturing environment at home or school. A strong support system can significantly impact a young person’s ability to cope with life’s challenges.
- Community Resources: Connect with organizations like The Partnership, that focus on substance misuse prevention. Explore our website for resources, guidance, and support for parents and caregivers dealing with these issues. Learn more on our website under ‘Resources’.
On this World Mental Health Day, let’s remember that youth mental health and substance use are interconnected challenges.
By addressing both issues with empathy, understanding, and proactivity, we can help young people build healthier, more resilient futures. The Partnership remains committed to providing resources and support to parents and caregivers as we work together to create a brighter, substance-free, and mentally healthier New Hampshire.