Mental Health and Substance Use

Today after reading an article titled University Faces Mental Health Crisis.

I was more inclined to write this article especially after having met with an out-patient psychiatric nurse this week. I saw her because of a referral I received…last year (summer 2011). I completely forgot about the referral, and besides, by the time I went to see her, I believe that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist.

I had developed some coping skills, and new techniques to help me with my anxiety or stress. I can give thanks for the student development services (specifically, to a counselor who finished her placement with me and the new one I am now seeing). I also had to give myself some credit because this year was the year that I finally decided,

I have to be honest with myself and with who ever I decided to receive help from because if I wasn’t honest…I wouldn’t get the help I actually needed

I was honest, and I also decided that I would cut back on drinking and stop doing drugs. I started noticing a pattern–less drinking and no drugs meant less anxiety attacks, less nightmares, less depression-bouts, less interrupted sleeps. It’s not that everything all of a suddenly magically stopped all together, but I noticed I was significantly feeling better. I didn’t and sometimes don’t still feel perfect. I still have my insecurities. I still have my fears. I have my flashbacks…still. I still look over my shoulder when I am walking alone. Double check, if not triple check that my door is double locked before bed. Sure, some people may call me paranoid, but I know that’s my coping method. Albeit, not a good one, but it works.

I think that is the most frustrating part about trying to get care for mental health: everything looks okay by the time the referral comes, but really…the person may have just developed new coping methods.

My new coping methods aren’t the best but they certainly are better than doing drugs and drinking every day. Even when I tried to get help when I was still using, mental health care professionals would say to me “Why not try to quit drinking and quit doing drugs and then we can make an appointment, okay?” I just want to yell out, “Can’t you see, I am doing drugs and drinking because of these mental health problems!”

I was using, and it was my coping method.

The thing with this article that I read today was that it focused on lack of resources to meet the high demand for students at the University. The article mentioned in only one instance “substance abuse.” Even the words together don’t sound nice.

You don’t have to be abusing substances in order for them to be affecting your mental health. In fact, you don’t even have to be a repeated user in order for substances to affect your mental health. In fact, you can even die on the first time you use substances. (Yes alcohol is a substance, and yes you can die from drinking too much in one sitting and not just over time)

I think the issue with University culture and mental health issues is that the two fail to acknowledge that substance use or substance abuse or substance experimentation may either further aggravate mental health issues, create new mental health issues, allow old mental health issues to resurface and even hide mental health issues–in my case, it did all that. But if I were to be honest with you, I did use a lot and I used every day. I wasn’t in school then though. I don’t think anyone who did what I used to do could ever complete first year or any year of university, and if they are… well I guess that is their coping method.

Individuals go away to school, and sometimes they are trying certain aspects of life for the first time. Everything from living on their own for the first time, having sex for the first time, being single for the first time, maybe even being drunk or high for the first time. When it comes to university, there are three aspects to it:

  1. academics
  2. social
  3. personal

Academics deals with marks and going to class and even passing or failing. Social deals with the partying, relationships (friendship or more), etc. Personal deals with finding yourself or well, losing yourself (freshman 15 anyone?).

In the article above, it states that there needs to be more resources. Yes, I completely agree. But what also needs to be is more awareness and education, not just on mental health but perhaps things that might hid, might exacerbate, or might even create mental health issues. Yes, I am kind of biased when it comes to speaking about mental health and substance use/abuse, but I’ve been there. Nobody ever told me, drinking might be the cause or doing drugs might be making it worse, because drinking and doing drugs was my coping method.

I’d like to make a further point or connection. Earlier today, an LFpress article was posted titled Growing number of schoolgirls using painkillers.

The interesting thing about this article is highlighted a statement by an officer, and the officer statement reads:

“The schools aren’t doing enough to educate parents on the subject…Their kids are taking the pills right out of their medicine cabinets, out of their purses. They’re either using them, selling them, or in many cases both.”

And here is another article that highlights the issue of young people finding drugs in their parents’ drug cabinets. Dated 2007: Student use of painkillers on the rise.

How many years later and kids getting drugs out of their parents drug cabinets is still a problem? That’s four years.

In four years, I moved to London, earned a college degree, and was accepted into a university and even completed first year university.

I am not blaming parents for substance abuse or substance use problems, or for their own child’s mental health issues, what I am making more apparent is the fact that sometimes in the University culture and the University experience is that some young people may want to experiment with substance use (and like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be substance abuse; it can be even first time use) which can sometimes create, hide, or exacerbate mental health issues. Yes, as noted earlier, alcohol is considered a substance. Yes, under aged drinking happens on campus. And not that I have witnessed, but I smelt it, drug use happens also.

Parents should also be made aware or educated on how substance use can affect mental health issues. I know that universities give tours during summer months to groups of parents and their child(ren). I believe universities should also give a quick workshop on substance use and mental health issues, and how sometimes the two go together, and tell the parents straight up,

Just because you think your child is an angel and you believe that they won’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t mean that they won’t. So here is some information to make you as a parent more aware and more able to help your child cope.

And yes parents, your child isn’t perfect and just because he/she says he/she is, doesn’t mean they won’t put themselves in situations where substance use occurs and he/she just wants to try it for the “first” and “only” time.

Now, I am not even going to say that one should stay away from substances completely, but what I am saying and what I do believe that more awareness needs to brought out to Universities about the issues with partying and drinking and how it can affect your mental health, and not just your physical health.

Ever hear that one saying, “These are for the nights I can’t remember with the people I won’t forget.” (Or however that over used quote goes…).

Yes parents and universities, it is referring to black out drunk. But I don’t think its cute or funny to use that quote with pictures of an individual holding a 26er of vodka. University experiences should be made to be memorable, and not just by pictures or recall through friends telling you stories the day after. Not. Cute. But that’s just my opinion.

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