To say that mental health and addictions issues amongst youth across North America are a troubling trend is like stating the sun is hot or the rain is wet.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health states that 18-25% of all adolescents in Canada will experience a mental health problem in any given year – most likely depression or anxiety. Symptoms of many mental disorders begin in adolescence and young adulthood, with a correlation between mental illness and substance abuse amongst youth.
A 2012 Newfoundland and Labrador drug use survey of middle and senior high school students revealed a significant number of students who used alcohol and cannabis – 47% consumed alcohol and 30% used cannabis in the previous 12 months, to be exact. Although the use of such drugs as LSD, mescaline, and inhalants was at its lowest since 1996, the use of MDMA (ecstasy) had significantly increased among students since 2003.
However, the future is far from hopeless. The answer to these widespread issues may very well be solid support, prevention, and intervention plans at the community level.
Dr. Lisa Bishop of the School of Pharmacy is the co-principal investigator on a community-based participatory research project. Along with co-principal investigator Dr. Stephen Darcy (Faculty of Medicine) and an interdisciplinary team of health care providers and community representatives, their goal is to design, implement and evaluate an intervention program that will include prevention, detection, and management of youth mental health and substance use problems, and to develop a community-based action plan to address those concerns.
She believes that community-based research is a more effective way to create public awareness of the severity of these issues, and encourage prevention.
“This is about strengthening the overall health and wellbeing of the youth,” she said. “Working with the members of the community ensures that we are developing a strategy that is appropriate to that community’s context and values. It’s not just some framework that we’re pulling from research studies. It’s about working with the people to determine how we prevent these issues and deal with them if they arise.”
Dr. Bishop recognizes that there are barriers to those who may need help.
“Whether it’s because of peer gossip, lack of services, or non-receptiveness to external supports, there appear to be barriers to seeking help” she said, adding that some solutions could include the formation of programs that tap into community networks.
Mental health diagnoses can come at a later stage. Dr. Bishop stated that some of the factors in late diagnosis could include poor identification of at-risk youth in the school system, lack of family and/or community support, and inaccessibility to mental health resources.
“If these issues aren’t prevented, mental illness and substance abuse can lead to poor academic performance, family conflict, unemployment and crime,” Dr. Bishop said. “From a theoretical approach, community-based research methods are of particular relevance for family physicians and other primary health clinicians, like pharmacists, who serve particular communities.”
Evolving face of pharmacy
This project points to the expanding role of pharmacists as trusted healthcare providers through all stages of health and wellness.
“Our findings will be of interest to knowledge users, decision makers and policy makers both locally and nationally,” Dr. Bishop stated. “The success of this project will be transferable to other communities across Canada, and will help us find solutions to the mental health and addictions challenges faced by youth and young adults.”
While the common perception of the primary role of pharmacists is that they dispense medications and identify drug interactions, as drug therapy experts, their role is expanding to include increased community engagement activities.
“Our School is constantly engaged with the public, and Dr. Bishop’s work is an excellent example of that,” said Dr. Linda Hensman, dean of the School of Pharmacy. “Whether it’s our preceptors providing our students with hands-on, practical training and experiential learning, or our faculty members advancing clinical care and research in areas such as HIV, mental health, heart disease and other illnesses – pharmacists are amongst the most accessible health care professionals.”