Back to School: Student Mental Health & Addictions
With school back in order, it is an excellent time to bring up reminders about drugs and alcohol, their safe and healthy use, and how to be self-reflective of problematic behaviours.
Whether it’s middle school, high school, college, or university, students appear to face more academic pressure than previous generations. Maybe it’s technology, maybe it’s a change in healthy responses to pressure, or maybe it’s a newfound expectation to multitask that has led today’s kids to take on more than they can handle in school who then deteriorate physically and mentally as a result.
Not surprisingly, students will often use drugs and/or alcohol to cope when tough times in school (and other parts of life) come along. This could be the result of a combination of factors such as being newly separated from parents (e.g. student has more, new responsibilities), reaching legal drinking age or being friends with someone who is, and dealing with a course load with less familial support. Obviously there are a million more influencers and factors; these are just some popular examples.
Stress, undoubtedly, is one of the most influential factors when it comes to substance misuse. Stress among students can lead to binge-drinking/drugging in off-study hours, misuse of prescription medications to improve concentration and study, and, ultimately, consequences that affect students’ academic life and other areas. The following blogs and articles are helpful resources for dealing with stress; especially for those with a pattern of drug or alcohol use as a way to cope/deal with their situation:
- Mental Health Services for Post-Secondary Students
- Families and Self-Care: Low Grade Worry
- The Nature of Stress – Setting Successful Goals
Alongside drug and alcohol use is student mental health. Mental health and addiction are jointly tied. At SCHC, we see clients like this all the time; it’s called dual diagnosis. Nationally, in Canada and the United States, more advocacy and movements have been occurring to end the stigma of mental health and remove physical and social barriers to seeking and receiving support/help. For example, there are numerous articles on depression and mental health in the wake of Robin William’s recent suicide and the increased publicity for fundraisers like Clara Hughes’ Big Ride and the Amanda Todd Legacy charity.
Getting Support & Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms
For students, there are – or should be – numerous on-campus resources to help with various mental health and substance use issues. For example, an on-campus facility may offer counselling, information and resources for studying more efficiently and reducing stress, and ways to cope with academic stress once it does develop. This facility will likely also include spaces for studying, meeting with others, and multipurpose and extracurricular activities like support groups. While not available everywhere, you may even have a counselling center that hosts peer-support groups for students in recovery. This is not a consistent service across Canadian campuses, but there is usually some form of support available on or nearby campus.
Hopefully the above information will be useful to those of you looking to reduce your substance use that is used as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or an inability to cope. If you’re a parent of a student, we have some resources for you too. Parents are still shown to generally have the most influence when it comes to substance use among youth and young adults. Here are some resources to help parents support and arm their children with the proper knowledge and resources for coping with the stress of school and higher education:
- Parenting and Addiction: The Gift of Adulthood (4 part blog series)
- 6 Parenting Tips for Helping Your Children Develop Personal Responsibility
- Managing the “Worry Monster” During the Transition to Adulthood
- Involving Friends and Family in Relapse Prevention
- When Addiction is close to home: A Toolkit for Families
- Addiction Recovery for Families: Understanding Slips vs. Relapse
- A Parent’s Guide to Helping Teens with Addiction
- Truth or D.A.R.E? The reality of school drug prevention programs