Let’s Talk About it - Mental health and substance abuse

Posted by Rebecca Velline on 2/24/2023

The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey results were recently released. More than 135,000 students completed the survey with nearly all doing so in-person at school between January and June 2022. This group of students reported greater struggles with mental health, such as depression and anxiety, than at any other time in the history of the survey, which began in 1989 and occurs every three years. The 2022 survey saw the continuation of an upward trend, with 29% of students reporting long-term mental health problems compared to 23% in 2019 and 18% in 2016. Long-term means problems lasting six months or more. State of Minnesota Student Survey 2022.

The relationship between substance use and mental health are often entwined. Looking specifically at adolescents, estimated rates of co-occurring mental illness among adolescents with substance use disorders range from 60 to 75 percent. As the adults in the lives of these adolescents, it is critical for us to discuss the signs of mental health and substance use concerns. Mental health concerns and substance use symptoms often can have a lot of similar symptoms.

What are some early signs of substance use or mental health struggles?

  • Drop in grades and skipping school without explanation.
  • Isolating themselves away from family or friends.
  • Mood swings. Out of the normal behavior for the individual.
  • Difficulty concentrating at home or in school.
  • Loss of interest in life activities in and outside of school.

Mental health and substance use signs can look differently for everyone. When I talk to loved ones of those who are addicted, often I hear them say, something just seemed off with them. 

Hazelden has defined an acronym for risk factors of teen substance use:

There are five main factors that contribute to a heightened risk for addiction, spelling out the acronym FACTS. 

  • Family history.
  • Age of first use.
  • Craving.
  • Tolerance.
  • Surroundings.

It can be difficult having conversations regarding mental health and substance use with both adults and adolescents. Coming into these conversations with empathy and understanding can help open the conversation up for honest feedback. Our department is always here for support and questions on these topics.