Groups focus on student mental health efforts

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published September 9, 2019

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Smartphones and the internet do not an easy childhood make.

While many of us might be tempted to think kids have it all too easy these days, the truth is adolescents and teens are more stressed than ever: sky-high college admission requirements, schedules packed to the gills with sports and extracurricular activities, peer pressure and bullying online and in school hallways, and, of course, the always present duress to indulge in drugs and alcohol.

And it’s up to the grown-ups to make sure students know how to get the essential resources they need to keep their mental health in check.

The Oakland Community Health Network announced last week that in this new school year, it will provide mental health materials to middle and high school teachers in Oakland County. The aim is to make resources like suicide prevention toolkits and crisis intervention agencies’ and general OCHN information available right where kids learn.

“This effort is to strengthen community partnerships and make valuable resources available to schools so they can better support the mental health needs of students and families in Oakland County,” OCHN Director of Communications Christine Burk said in an email.

Teachers will be provided with the OCHN’s general brochure, which outlines the network’s services, like phone screenings, eligibility for services and more. Along with that, resource and crisis center cards will be offered to teachers to make available in classrooms. On the cards are locations, phone numbers and online information for individuals, including information on residential units, online chat and text services, and more.

The OCHN has also offered to provide teachers with suicide prevention toolkits for parents, with information related to risk factors, warning signs, prevention tips, and how to talk with young people about tough topics like suicide. Phone numbers for a variety of local organizations and crisis helplines are provided in the toolkit, too.

While the OCHN wants to make help more available to students while they’re in class, other organizations are picking up the baton outside of school.

The Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, a nonprofit devoted to helping teens avoid the dangers of alcohol and drugs, has been trying for the last several years to combat the unique pressure that students face today.

“We’ve stepped up our efforts even more in terms of preventing and supporting young people with stress, anxiety, depression,” said Carol Mastroianni, the executive director of the BBCC.

Some of the ways the coalition has ramped up its focus on mental health issues are with in-depth information on its website, like its own comprehensive resource guide to mental health and substance abuse treatment resources in Oakland County, and information specifically on stress and anxiety in teens, too.

Much of that information is gathered from the coalition’s biannual teen substance use and mental health survey, which polls more than 5,000 local students on what choices they’re making in their academic and social lives.

The coalition’s Youth Action Board, comprising teens committed to advocating for healthy lifestyles in their peer groups with substance-free events throughout the year, has also penned a question-and-answer section on the site where adults can see commonly asked questions about teen anxiety, depression and chemical dependence from a young person’s point of view. The answers include how the BBCC teens believe they’d be most responsive to help from loved ones.

“We have specific programs that help parents and other adults better understand what teens are going through … and practical tips for supporting teens,” Mastroianni said. “Schools and other groups can request us to come in.”

Both groups agree that one of their main goals is to make mental health awareness and treatment a normal part of growing up, like wellness doctor visits and sports physicals. Removing the stigma that sometimes surrounds mental illness will help more young people find treatment, which is why the OCHN created the #LessLabels MoreRespect campaign.

To learn more about the resources available through the Oakland Community Health Network, visit occmha.org or call (248) 858-1210.

You can find out more about the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition at bbcoalition.org and on social media.

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