Panel offers formula to help struggling teens: Judge less, listen more

Those working in the front lines of mental health, drug prevention, drug addiction and recovery heard firsthand last week from a panel of youths about strategies that can help young people who need help in those areas.

The panel made up of members of STAND (Safe Teens AgaiNst Drugs) convened at the community center at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park, under the auspices of the monthly coalition meeting of the Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention.

A panel of youths recently shared suggestions about taking aim to reduce drug abuse and mental health problems. For starters, they said, it would help to have more counselors on campus who have time to listen to them. From left: Ormand Derrick, panel moderator, and panelists Mariah Morales, Ariana Santillana, Mia Cuasey and Annabelle Durff. (B.C. Manion)

The room was filled with professionals, and the youths— who have experienced firsthand the issues of addiction, attempted suicide, losing a loved one to drug abuse or being shuffled between foster homes —  had plenty of ideas to share.

There needs to be better access to help, said panelist Annabelle Durff.

Services are available sometimes, but they’re across town, she said.

“That’s not going to help. It’s too far away,” Durff said, noting many students don’t drive or have a way to get a ride.

Paying for therapy is another issue, she said.

Lack of parental support is a problem, too, she said, noting that some parents refuse to help their kids get help.

“I think if you have more school programs that are right (there), direct for the kids, that’s going to help,” Durff said.

It’s not enough to simply have counselors available, the staffing needs to be adequate, panelists added.

There are guidance counselors on campus, but they are pulled in too many directions.

“If I’m having an issue, or a mental breakdown, I have to wait until next week because they (other students) want to talk about their test scores.

“There’s nobody there just for the students to talk to,” she said.

More creative approaches are needed to teach young people to avoid using drugs and alcohol, said panelist Ariana Santillana.

She thinks that people tend to minimize the dangers of alcohol abuse. In her opinion, it’s the biggest substance abuse problem in Pasco County.

“I feel like it’s been so normalized. Nobody really thinks it’s a big deal,” she said. Plus, it’s easily available in many homes.

She advocates coming up with new strategies to reach kids, instead of simply pulling out a Power Point presentation and repeating the common refrain “drugs are bad, don’t do them,” she said.

There needs to be a new attitude when helping people who have substance abuse or mental health illnesses, panelists said.

“Offer your support, instead of punishment,” Santillana said.

Panelist Mia Causey agreed: “We need to show kids we are here for them. If they need help, we’re there to help them, instead of passing them off to somebody else.”

Drug prevention efforts usually last for about a week and generally involve free pencils, wrist bands, stickers and posters, the panelists said.

Durff asked: “What about the kids that are already doing drugs?”

She added: “What about kids (whose) parents are already doped up?”

It doesn’t help to tell people that drugs are bad, she said.

“They probably already know that, but they don’t have the strength to stop it themselves,” Durff said.

Talk about issues, don’t hide them, panelists say
Mental illness, substance abuse and suicide are issues that need to become part of the public conversation, panelists said.

“The thing about STAND is that we’re not afraid to bring light to the problem,” Causey said. “How do you expect to solve the problem, if we don’t bring light to it?”

Getting help to end drug use or to cope with mental health issues shouldn’t be taboo topics, she added.

An appointment for a therapy session should be viewed in the same light as going to the doctor for an ankle injury or to treat a cold, Causey added. “It should be a normalized thing.”

Helping kids find their passions and a positive outlet could go a long way in reducing drug use and promoting positive mental health, panelists added.

Causey: “If you have passion for something, take what you already know and take your already given talents and apply it to that. I love talking. I also am really good at writing poetry, so I do spoken word. I speak at all sorts of different events.”

Santillana noted: “Schools offer sports and band. I’m in band, and I’ve got a zillion things to do every day, so what time do I have for drugs?”

Mariah Morales, another panelist, said she immerses herself in art. “That has really helped me through everything I’ve been through. Art is my way of getting out my feelings and expressing myself. It really does help.”

The panelists also said they believe having a 12-step program in schools would be helpful.

Finally, they believe that sharing their stories can help other youths who are going through challenging times.

“We need to step up, and talk about it and say, ‘If you are going through these things, I got past it. I got through it, and it’s not the end,” Durff said.

Causey agreed: “Saying ‘No’ for yourself is the first step. Helping somebody else say ‘No’ is the next step.”

Safe Teens AgaiNst Drugs (STAND) is a team of youth leaders determined to end youth substance abuse in Pasco County by providing education to teachers, police, businesses and other community members.

Priority Issues:

  • Change youth perspective of drugs
  • Reduce accessibility of drugs
  • Reduce marketing of drugs to young people
  • Create an environment where young people in recovery can thrive

Published August 8, 2018

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