Red Ribbon Week is the nation’s longest running drug abuse prevention campaign and has been going on for over 30 years! Many of us probably remember getting little red ribbons to stick to our shirts each year in school as part of a pledge to live our lives drug free. Having started in 1983, Red Ribbon Week keeps their programming up to date with our society’s ever changing needs.
This year, Red Ribbon Week goes digital like so many of our other events have. Their website is packed with digital tools to use with youth organizations including shareable social media content and even downloadable Zoom backgrounds! Their resource tab also includes a curated list of lesson plan materials and readings to help you get the best possible information about drug abuse prevention.
The pandemic has only fanned the flames of our nation's addiction crisis. Stress, desperation, poverty, and other factors inflamed by the pandemic have led many Americans to turn to drug abuse or return to old habits. This is especially concerning for our youth who may be influenced by this kind of behavior in the adults they trust or who have found further access to drugs during lockdown.
So, what steps can you take to keep the teens in your life safe from Drug Abuse?
Have a Conversation with them. Keep the tone of the talk judgment-free and honest. While even just starting the conversations can be hard, doing so is the first step in identifying yourself as someone they can trust with these sorts of discussions. Find a time in a relaxed environment to speak candidly about the very real temptations and culture of drug usage and the consequences of such.
Secondly, commit to Locking Your Meds and encourage others to do so. According to the Lock Your Meds MEDucation guide, 1,700 children and young adults begin experimenting with prescription drugs each day. Keep your medications in a safe place and only take your own medications as prescribed. Remind teens that just because it came from a doctor, doesn’t mean it's safe. Prescription drug abuse is a growing concern that must be addressed.
Third, Do Your Research! If you want to be a resource to the teens in your life, you must be informed. Be prepared to answer tough questions not just with a “cause I said so” attitude but with facts and statistics. Even if you can’t become an expert, be ready to guide your teen through their own research when they have questions you yourself can’t answer. The Red Ribbon Week website is a great place to start.
We hope this year's Red Ribbon Week inspires you to take action! Check out our website for more information on how our programs address drug abuse and to learn about how you can get involved.
October 4 - 10th is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). Each year more and more people become familiar with mental illness and the role it plays in all our lives. While not all of us may have a mental illness diagnosis, it is almost certain that someone in each of our lives does. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) selects a theme each year to focus on during MIAW; This year NAMI has shared content centered on the theme of “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” While almost all of us likely know someone with a mental illness, we may only know the title to their condition and still be unfamiliar with their story or their lived experience.
Especially as we work our way into the Halloween season, it's easy to think about the scary representations of mental illness that we see in movies and TV shows. Your loved ones with mental illness are not about to become the title of the latest psychological thriller film just because they received a diagnosis. Most people living with mental illness live completely typical lives. While terms like “Borderline Personality Disorder” or “Bipolar Disorder” may seem daunting, the people living with them are not super villains in the making -- they’re family, friends, coworkers, and peers. Ashlynn McNeeley reminds us in her post on NAMI’s website that “I am not my mental illness… it is simply a small part of my identity”. For the sake of flair and drama, the media can often portray ordinary conditions as unrealistically severe. Teens face an ocean of stigma everyday so it's no wonder the hashtag #stigmafree becomes so important during MIAW. With 1 in 6 US youth ages 6-17 experiencing a mental health disorder, we can’t let stigma or fear or media misconceptions stop us from talking about mental illness, this week or any other.
While some may look at mental illness and think it is larger or scarier than it is in reality, others may misunderstand mental illness on the other end of the spectrum. While not all mental illnesses are debilitating, they are still very serious diagnoses that deserve the proper consideration. As much as we wish anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses were like a cold that we could just push through or wish that we could just tough it out -- they aren’t. As with all illnesses, some are more severe than others, some have cures, some don’t. In many cases, a mental illness is not something that will go away but instead is a part of one’s health that one must learn how to cope with and manage. Feeling nervous may be an emotion that some find easy to overcome; they can quell their panicked feeling with reassuring thoughts and maybe a few deep breaths. But for someone with anxiety, feelings of nervousness can often snowball into a full panic attack which can take much more than a few deep breaths to overcome. That person with an anxiety disorder may always have anxiety, but by addressing the diagnosis, better practices can be worked on to lessen the impact that the illness has on their life. Belittling or even ignoring these realities can be detrimental to your relationship with the person with mental illness, and it can block them from the knowledge they need to move forward on their mental health journey. Keep an open mind about diverse experiences and remember that not everyone’s mind works the same way as yours for a wide variety of reasons.
During this week, take some time to reflect on your own and your loved ones’ mental health. Ask yourself, what do you wish people knew about your mental health? And ask your loved ones, what do they wish you knew about theirs? Open conversations with teens about mental illness can help eliminate misconceptions they may have about themselves or those around them. As always, know you don’t have to forge these waters alone. There is a plethora of resources available on NAMI’s website including blog posts, resource libraries, videos, hotlines and numerous other guiding tools to start your mental health journey.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, reach out:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Domestic violence is a pervasive issue that touches on practically every aspect of an impacted individual’s life. Youth who experience abuse at home are at a higher risk for becoming homeless and have a greater risk for taking part in unsafe relationships themselves as they grow older. Violence in the home can normalize the presence of violence in other aspects of life or even insight violence within the abused individual themselves. Cycles of abuse happen on micro and macro levels: there’s a smaller cycle that happens in an individual's relationship, and a larger cycle that can occur across generations. The cycle of abuse can appear in many ways. Generally speaking, the cycle is often depicted as occurring in 4 stages: the honeymoon phase, the tension building phase, the explosive incident, and the calm phase. In the honeymoon phase, the involved individuals feel what may seem to be near perfection levels of happiness. Then tensions begin to build. The appearances of perfection begin to fade and one might feel like they are walking on eggshells. When tensions reach a tipping point, an explosive incident occurs. This incident could be a physical one, a verbal one, or a combination of various forms of violence. The calm stage following the incident often involves a sense of shock and guilt, which transitions into apologies, promises, and a repeat of the honeymoon phase thus starting the cycle over. Generationally the cycle can continue by normalizing this cycle of violence in the lives of young adults who will repeat it in their future relationships with romantic partners or family members.
Those outside of the cycle may be oblivious to what is happening to their loved one, and once they know, they may even wonder why the victim doesn’t simply leave the abusive situation. Familiarizing oneself with the cycle of abuse can help make identifying it easier, and can shed light on the struggles of those affected. WHile leaving may seem like the easiest option, it is rarely so simple. Oftentimes the abuser has some sort of power over the abused (financial, physical, etc) that prevents them from leaving; this coercion and control is especially concerning in cases with vulnerable demographics like youth. We must stress to our youth that their safety is top priority. Help them understand that anyone who attempts to compromise their safety is a threat and should be avoided. Make sure that the youth in your life have not just one, but multiple trusted adults with whom they can seek help. While we may not be able to collect every detail of each specific possible incident, we can still prepare ourselves to be advocates for those in need.
There are numerous local resources for those affected by domestic violence. St. Jude House in Crown Point is a shelter specifically for those seeking asylum from domestic violence. Along with providing shelter, St. Jude House also offers legal and financial advocacy - two crucial resources for breaking out of abusive cycles. Their website includes further information on the prevention of child abuse along with other useful information in preventing violence. The Crisis Center in Gary “include[s] the Alternative House emergency shelter for children and youth, Safe Place outreach to youth in crisis and Teen Court prevention and early intervention services for youth”. These services are available to youth ages 10-20 who need to seek shelter from abuse, homelessness, or other forms of violence. Here youth can take advantage of the counseling, transportation, skills training, and case management to help safely transition them into the next chapter of their life. For immediate assistance, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. The hotline’s website also provides tools for creating action plans, specific guides for understanding abuse across various cultural demographics, identification of early warning signs, and a live chat option for seeking help.
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.