One local organization which treats substance use problems is reaching out to help adolescents too, especially those struggling with pandemic-related changes.
Programs aimed at helping students cope with mental health stressors are in place at some area schools including Taunton High School and Bridgewater Middle School.The programs are being run through High Point Treatment Center and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic with a substance use focus and more general support on academic and social skills for students.
Students work with clinicians known as life coaches to help them cope with emotional and mental health related stressors and get them familiar with conversations around mental health, according to Tara Pacheco, Community Outreach Coordinator at High Point.
“What we're doing is we're getting more of a clinical presence inside of the schools,” said Pacheco. “We're also in the process of creating support groups at the high school level and putting clinicians that we’ll be calling life coaches into the schools.”
The term life coach is being used to help bypass any stigma attached to the idea of working with a therapist, Pacheco said.
Sarah Held, a High Point clinician who works directly with students, runs a weekly drop-in program for students over Zoom.
“We work one-on-one with them once a week in the school,” she said. “But then we’re also offering some social skills groups.”
“We have a topic of the week and they're just like fun topics they can come to,” she continued. “And we have a homework help group that we do even just for young girls, (and) a self-esteem group on how social media influences them, especially nowadays with technology.”
The programs allow clinicians to interact with students apart from the school administration yet still work closely with school staff.
“It's great that we can be in the school and be a support in that way because we get to collaborate with the school while also having this relationship with the students,” said Held. “We’re not school staff, so if they tell us something they don't have that fear as much that it's going to get reported to the school or they're going to get in trouble. I love the accessibility of it.”
Students get referred to programs by guidance counselors, parents, and school administrators but also teachers or even their peers who are participating in a program.
“Sometimes I have students who are like, ‘This is great. My friend could really benefit from this.’ And then that's how they put them in,” said Held.
The hope is that as the weather gets warmer, the program can add outdoor activities and help students get more engaged with the program and their academic work, Held said.
One Signs of Suicide program held in Bridgewater has already helped students identify their peers who might need help. The program led to a referral from a student whose friend made a suicidal ideation comment while they were playing video games together.
“Because they had just done that presentation one of the students then reported it to the school psychologist which I thought was big,” said Held. “I thought that was a good contribution that they were having in the school.”