State-funded Novato High program helps identify mental health support needs – Marine Independent

A school can be many things: a place to learn, connect with friends and compete in sports. It can also be a place where students feel stressed, where they are hurt by judgment and racism, or where they are exposed to drug abuse.

May is Mental Health Month and the perfect time for schools to commit to creating a safe space to decompress, ask questions without judgment, and contact behavioral health professionals when needed.

Through the Marin Youth Opioid Response 2, granted to the Marin County Probation Department and administered by BluePath Health, students at Novato High School have a dedicated healthcare navigator employed by North Marin Community Services. The Navigator works in partnership with Novato High consultants and administrators as part of the Wellness Campus.

To make the students feel safe, the facilitator must be friendly and never judgmental. Having a bilingual coordinator and having a common background with many of Novato’s students, 40% of whom are Latino, also makes a big difference. When they don’t have to spend the time explaining the cultural dynamics, they can just jump right into what’s on their mind.

These traits are the reason many students seek out school health services to ask questions about sensitive topics such as sexual health or substance abuse or simply to talk about how they feel without stigmatization. For students who require higher levels of support, a dedicated Wellness Coordinator is a means of contacting NMCS clinicians on campus or other off-campus mental health services.

To date, through this effort, nearly 200 students on campus have been screened for drug use, suicide risk, anxiety, depression, and protective factors. Of these, 90% indicated a moderate to high need for mental health support. They are far from alone. So many young people across the country are feeling mentally distressed, and US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has declared a youth mental health emergency.

According to Dr. Murthy, young people are being “bombed” with messages in the media and popular culture that undermine their self-worth. As if that weren’t enough, “legitimate and worrisome issues such as climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic, and gun violence” also affect the mental health of young people. And this was all before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2019, emergency room visits for suicide attempts among girls 12-17 have increased by more than 50%. In the epidemic’s first year, teenage deaths from drug overdose nearly doubled.

Young members of the RxSafe Marin Youth Action Team help shape the Marin Youth Opioid Response Program by sharing perspectives on how to reach young people with messages about drug use, including the dangers of tobacco use. Having young people at the table makes these efforts more successful, because teens need information that resonates with them.