By Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator – October 28, 2020-

The conversation around marijuana is a hot topic in our society these days.  Most folks seem to choose one side or the other and not many fall in the middle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the United States with 36.7 million users (youth and adult) in 2018. This number is alarming because not everyone is aware of the physical and mental health risks, especially for our youth.

In a 2014 study, it was reported by Lancet Psychiatry that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school or college than those who never use. They were also seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

A human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. When marijuana use is started at an early age, there will be damaging effects to the long term cognitive abilities of that individual.

Marijuana has many damaging effects on the brain. It can affect the parts of your brain responsible for memory, learning, decision making, emotions, reaction times, and attention. These effects could look different in each person. Different factors can come into play, including the potency of the marijuana, how often it is used, if other substances were used along with it, and at what age the individual began using marijuana.

Many people believe marijuana use can calm anxiety and relax an individual, but frequent and heavy use can actually bring on more feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

What are some of the other risks of using marijuana? First, marijuana is addictive. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. That number rises to 1 in 6 if they began using before the age of 18.

Some signs of addiction can include unsuccessful efforts to quit using, giving up activities with friends or family because of marijuana, and continuing to use even though it has caused problems with work, school, and home.

Marijuana also elevates the heart rate, causing it to work even harder. This is especially the case if other substances are used along with marijuana. It can also cause respiratory problems, including chronic cough. While marijuana use has not been found as a direct link to cancer, many marijuana smokers also use cigarettes, which do cause cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as being harmful, but 64.7 percent say they disapprove of regular marijuana use. Now is the time to start the conversation with your child around marijuana.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research on the topic and know how marijuana will affect your child’s health.
  2. Find a comfortable setting to have the conversation.
  3. Keep an open mind. Your child will be less receptive if they feel judged.
  4. Stay positive and don’t use scare tactics, as they are counter-productive.
  5. Don’t lecture; keep the conversation flowing freely between the two of you.

Stay involved in your children’s lives by keeping the conversation open, and let them know they can come to you without fear or judgment. This can make a world of difference when having a discussion with them about marijuana.

This column is written by Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 64 Master’s level social workers to 90 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year have access to Youth First’s school social work and afterschool programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.

By Salita Brown, Project Manager -October 22, 2020-

Addiction… overdose… death… serious consequences that have become synonymous with opioid use.

Opioids are very powerful drugs that have received significant media attention in the past years. However, through all of the coverage the reason opioids have become so addictive has gotten lost.

So, what exactly is an opioid?  Why are people addicted to them?  According to the Mayo Clinic website, mayoclinic.org, an opioid is a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with the opioid receptors in your brain cells, meaning an opioid can temporarily control your brain.

Opioids trigger the brain to release a signal that lessons your perception of pain and increases your feeling of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure, though temporary, has led to repeated overdoses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently reports 128 Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses.

This crisis is one that everyone can help combat, even if you think it does not affect you directly. One of the easiest methods to prevent addiction is proper disposal of unused medications.  All unused/expired medications become quite dangerous when found by the wrong person. This is especially dangerous when medications find their way into the hands of a child.

In order to help prevent this issue it’s best to get these medications out of your home. You might think you need to go to your medicine cabinet and flush those unused pills down the toilet or maybe throw them directly into the trash. You are not entirely wrong, but both of those disposal methods require a couple more steps to be safe and effective.

So, what exactly is the proper means for disposing of your expired or unused prescriptions? One option is to bring the unwanted medications to an authorized collector.  An authorized collector will simply take the medications, with no questions asked, and properly dispose of them for you. To find an authorized collector near you, please call the DEA Office of Diversion Control at 1-800-882-9539.

Another option is to flush your unused medications down the toilet. Before you rush to flush all of your medications, please be advised that not all medicines are recommended for flushing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of medicines approved for flushing that can be found by checking their website at www.fda.gov. If your medication is not on the approved list, it can be taken to an authorized collector or properly disposed in the trash.

By Diane Braun- October 15, 2020-

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people each year.  This year’s event will take place October 23-31.

According to the Red Ribbon Week website, this event is an ideal way for people and communities to unite and take a visible stand against drugs. 

Red Ribbon Week was started when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985. This began the continuing tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs. The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and visible commitment towards the creation of a Drug-Free America.

National Family Partnership is the sponsor of this annual celebration. They are helping citizens across the country come together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free, through parent training, networking, and sponsoring events.

With over thirty annual events having taken place, you might ask, “Is Red Ribbon Week effective?”  According to Peggy Sapp, President of National Family Partnership, consider the following:

  • Red Ribbon Week is an environmental strategy, which means it doesn’t just affect a small group but usually goes beyond schools, churches and other groups into the broader community.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be an awareness campaign that gets information to the general public about the dangers of drug use.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to get people talking to other people and working on activities that will help rebuild a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to help parents and schools deliver an effective drug prevention curriculum.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to create critical mass, which is necessary to reduce destructive social norms/behaviors and promote positive social norms/behaviors.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be positive and fun, two things necessary to maintain good mental health.

Schools can benefit from curriculum available on the official Red Ribbon Week website, www.redribbon.org.  Incorporating substance use prevention education into daily classes such as health is an ideal way to bring awareness to students and promote prevention.

Parents should also access the website for great ideas about talking to children of any age about the dangers of substance use. Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t; however, only 25 percent of teens report having these conversations.

Alcohol and other forms of drug abuse in this country have reached epidemic stages, and it is imperative that visible, unified prevention education efforts by community members be launched to eliminate the demand for drugs.

Please join Youth First this week as we promote the importance of prevention and educating our children, families and communities about the dangers of substance use.

By Abby Betz, LSW- October 7, 2020-

During difficult times in our lives, specifically a global pandemic, we can easily become overwhelmed with simply trying to take care of ourselves. With multitudes of websites and books on self-care and countless “how-to” guides, it can be tough to decide what works best.

The purpose of practicing self-care is to find the best method to manage our mental well-being in a constructive way without adding more stress to our already busy lives. In a time when we are asked to limit contact with others as much as possible, we need to step back and revisit the basics so we can best care for ourselves and our loved ones.  

As a school social worker, my job is to help students learn positive coping skills to manage their feelings. Simply put, coping skills are what we think and do to help get us through difficult situations.

There are several coping skills that anyone can learn in order to overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. The key is to not overthink it, which just adds more unwarranted stress!

Counting to 10 is a great coping skill for anxiety and anger. It gives you time to calm down before responding to a stressful situation. During this time when you are slowing your thought process, you can decide to make better choices.

Taking three deep breaths is similar to counting to 10, as it is also a great skill to use when battling anxiety. The key is to take slow, deep, breaths and focus on breathing IN through your nose and OUT through your mouth. You can repeat this exercise until you have returned to a resting, calm state.

Finding a positive distraction is also a good way to help alleviate stress. Squeezing a stress ball can help relieve tension as well as improve concentration and focus.

Coloring and drawing are other constructive distractions that enable you to use creativity to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Any type of artistic activity is a wonderful way to cope with stress because it lets you be creative and anyone can do it – no matter your skill level.

Taking care of your body is also extremely important and can be as simple as drinking plenty of water. Eating healthy and being active are also vital components to our emotional and physical well-being and can help decrease stress. An example I like to use with my students to show the importance of eating a healthy meal is to imagine they are a car and breakfast is the fuel for the car. If students don’t have enough fuel for their morning classes, they could run out before lunch and will lose focus and motivation.

Another great way of promoting positive thinking is to imagine a happy place or think about your favorite memory. It may be at the beach, at your grandma’s house baking cookies, or at school playing with friends. Thinking positive thoughts can replace negative thoughts, which makes this coping skill a great tool to have. 

At the end of the day, if things just seem too overwhelming – ask for help.  Reaching out to loved ones or someone we trust is an important coping skill that all of us should use. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, asking for help is a powerful sign of strength and self-awareness.

If you or someone you know is in need of help – please do not be afraid to reach out.  Youth First is here for you! We will get through this difficult time together.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW -October 1, 2020-

This time last year, no one dreamed 2020 would bring a worldwide pandemic. We were forced to adjust very quickly to quarantines, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, travel restrictions, working remotely and masks. Who knew a year ago we would be using terms like “social distancing” and “face masks” in our everyday conversations?

Anxiety, depression, and suicide have all been on the rise. Unemployment and economic numbers are worse than during the Great Depression. Everyone is on edge. 

As adults the coronavirus pandemic is scary enough, but what if we are also parents? How do we take care of ourselves while also providing comfort and stability to our children? 

As a parent of two young children myself, working from home at the start of the pandemic was a challenge. Parents have always struggled with work/home life balance, but stay-at-home orders and working remotely were something new. We also had the challenge of not only being a parent but also our child’s teacher.  I think all of us now have a greater appreciation for teachers and the work they do. 

Stay-at-home orders have ended, and many of us are gradually returning to work and school. As we adjust to a new normal, however, many parents are struggling to find time for their own self-care.

Self-care is the practice of intentionally taking care of your own needs. Self-care is important for everyone, especially parents and caregivers. Some may find that certain activities they used to enjoy as part of their own self-care, such as going to the gym, vacationing, going to the movies, and eating out may be more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions or closures. 

Here are some practical self-care ideas for parents:

  1. Avoid overexposure to the news. I personally found that when I was watching the national news I was more anxious and worried. Spend time watching television that is enjoyable and gives you an escape from reality for a bit.   
     
  2. Spend quiet time alone. It could be on your commute to work or after your children go to bed. It’s important to have time to process the day and enjoy calm.
  3. Spend time enjoying hobbies. Some pandemic-friendly ideas include listening to podcasts, reading, going for a drive, or talking to friends or family on the phone. I’ve recently discovered audio books and love being able to “read” while driving to work or taking a walk outside.
     
  4. Exercise.  Maybe you still feel uncomfortable going to the gym, but fall is a beautiful time for the family to enjoy outdoor walks. Exercise is also a natural stress reliever. 
  5. Practice mindfulness or meditation. There are several apps you can download for free mindfulness exercise, such as CALM, Stop Breathe and Think, and Headspace. Some of the apps have both a free and paid version with additional content. Research links meditation to increased levels of happiness.
     
  6. Find a babysitter for the night and enjoy some time with friends or your significant other. It is important to have adult time away from your children. 
  7. Spend time planning upcoming experiences. Dr. Laura Santo from Yale University’s work on the secret of happiness has found that spending money on experiences is linked to increased levels of happiness versus spending money on material possessions. For many, this could be planning a trip. I was reading in a travel magazine that the act of planning a vacation can actually lead to more happiness than the vacation itself. If you had a trip cancelled this year, plan for something exciting in 2021. You don’t necessarily have to leave town; you could plan a local experience such as a trip to the zoo or a walk by the river.
     
  8. Enjoy time together as a family. Have a game night or order carry-out and have a backyard picnic.   
     
  9. Socialize. I think one of the tragedies of COVID-19 is the loss of human connection.  Isolation can lead to depression. People have been told to stay away from others and maintain distance, but this does not mean we have to isolate. Plan to FaceTime a friend or have an outdoor get-together with chairs spaced 6 feet apart.
     
  10. Order carry-out food (or dine in if you feel comfortable) and support a local business.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, be sure to make self-care a priority during the pandemic. Taking care of yourself ensures that you will be able to give your best when taking care of others.