Support Available to Help Districts Deal with Teen Substance Use and Suicide
School-Based Prevention Programs Serving as a Potential Model for the State
Since the beginning of the Building Capacity Consortium, the partnering school districts and USC have worked together to identify resources and programs that can help schools across California and the nation address serious mental health issues facing some students. These include issues such as substance use and suicide ideation.
The California Healthy Kids Survey shows, for example, that 18 percent of all 9th graders and 23 percent of all 11th graders in California say they recently used drugs or alcohol. And among secondary students, 19 percent of 9th graders and 17 percent of 11th graders throughout California say they have seriously considered attempting suicide.
This means that the vast majority of students in California do not deal with these issues on a regular basis. The majority of youth are resilient, thriving, and receive support from their family, friends, social networks and schools. However, these percentages also mean that a large number of students could use more support and guidance to overcome these mental health problems. More intense and specialized services are needed to help this group of students and their families.
"This is a statewide and even national problem. A meaningful proportion of students and families nationwide are dealing with these serious issues," says Dr. Ron Astor, professor at the USC School of Social Work and Rossier School of Education "We know it's hard to get kids to succeed academically in school if they are dealing with depression, suicidal ideation and substance use issues."
Several key organizations within San Diego County are available to help educators better understand these problems and to help students struggling with these types of issues.
Suicide Prevention Council Offers Training
The Suicide Prevention Council (SPC) is a community-wide effort to reduce and eliminate suicides in San Diego County.
The Council's Question, Persuade, Refer training teaches "gatekeepers"--including educators, parents and community members--to recognize a crisis and to identify the warning signs that someone might be thinking about suicide.
In partnership with the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) and OptumHealth, SPC provided this training to over 700 people last year.
SPC is also a member of the San Diego Military Family Collaborative, where Diana Pineda, Building Capacity's project manager, heard a recent presentation on the SPC's work.
"This is a great opportunity to partner with them and bring them into the schools," Pineda said.
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Confronting Substance Abuse
Another model that districts might want to consider replicating is READI, which stands for Recovery Education Alcohol/Drug Instruction. READI is being implemented in the San Dieguito Union High School District.
Students are referred to READI if they are found in possession of alcohol or drugs, alcohol or drug paraphernalia or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Completing the program allows students to avoid a suspension on their record. Parents and students can also request to attend the program.
READI, an intensive, two-day course for students held at La Costa Canyon High School, is currently the only program being promoted by the San Diego HHSA.
Parents participate in the program by attending a mandatory support group. Students are also required to perform 10 hours of community service, have five hours of recovery support, complete the READI Relapse Prevention Booklet, attend six weeks of a post-READI group and provide drug test results.
For more information, visit the READI website.
Partnerships Are Important
While many districts have counselors and social workers, it's important, Astor says, to also have university and community partners, such as the SPC, because they can help build awareness about community resources among teachers, staff and parent groups.
Faculty members at USC's San Diego Academic Center are also available to work with schools and districts in these areas. Dr. Jennifer Lewis, an adjunct lecturer who also provides workshops and in-service training to school districts, and Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, a clinical assistant professor with school social work experience, have expressed interest in working with schools and districts wanting to expand services and awareness in these critical areas.