A drug problem, a mental health concern or something else?
Drug problems rarely happen in isolation. Young people who experience drug related problems or who are at risk of developing them often display other behaviours or symptoms which would also commonly be describe as problems.
Mental health concerns, self-injuring and behavioural problems commonly co-occur with drug related concerns. All of these issues share common contributing factors so it makes sense that they may occur simultaneously.
As a teacher trying to support a young person, which issue do you focus on or try to help with? Rather than trying to conduct complex assessments or spending time attempting to unravel what issues came first we suggest keeping a few things in mind:
- Is there an immediate risk or danger to the young person? Suicide concern? Self-injury concern? Overdose? Act on what that immediate risk is.
- What does the young person want to address? Helping a young person in an area in which they are motivated is often the best way to go. In fact, achieving a goal in one area can help build confidence that other goals are achievable.
- A range of issues such as drug and alcohol problems, mental health concerns and behavioural problems can all have their genesis in a similar range of underlying factors. In a setting such as school you will often be intervening in a way that boosts positive, protective factors (problem solving, communication skills, promoting social activities, connectedness to school, etc) more so than offering treatment for a particular condition (a referral and external support is needed for this). Boosting protective factors is likely to have an impact on a range of issues simultaneously.
- Specialist AOD or MH services should not refuse support for a young person because of the presence of the other issue. Both AOD support services and Mental Health support services should be in a position to help a young person (at least with a supported referral) regardless of the most obvious presenting issue. It should not matter who the first referral is made to.
Did you know the DEECD, in partnership with Headspace, have developed a great resource and “teachers support” for addressing Mental Health concerns in students, (including self-injury)? Its an online training package called SAFEMinds.