Many of you know the general history of the campaigns that have been used to address issues surrounding drug abuse in America (& then used as rallying cries around the rest of the world after the topic became mainstream).
Born at the tail end of the 70’s & then as a child of the 80’s, my friends & I were taken through the concept of a – “War On Drugs” & the “Just Say No” campaign. I believe in my heart of hearts that the former First Lady had all the right intentions – to curb an epidemic she saw sweeping the nation (interestingly enough while Nancy Reagan popularized the terminology, the actual verbiage for the war on drugs was first used by Nixon in the early 70’s).
During breaks of TV’s most popular sitcoms, we’d be shown repeated commercials sponsored by A Partnership for a Drug-Free America such as: an egg being fried on a pan: “This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Or: “I learned it from you dad! Parents who use drugs have kids who use drugs.”
We sat through multiple drug prevention assemblies in school each year. Candidly I remember very little about the details that were shared in each. Maybe it was bc I wasn’t interested in drugs. Maybe it was bc the presentations weren’t the most compelling. Hard to know for sure.
But, what I do remember from my school years is that we had “guidance counselors” & there was a very negative stigma placed on “those kids” who had to “visit” the Guidance Office. The rumors were always about “the problem kids” who couldn’t behave or had issues at home, having to seek help…& seeking help was looked as at a bad thing/ a sign of someone flawed.
To this day, we still prioritize the drug conversation & keep it in a somewhat of a vacuum. We recently had a remake of the “egg” commercial in 2016; and this past October the opioid crisis was declared a “Health Emergency.” With 59,000 drug-related deaths in America in 2016, it makes sense for this to be a priority, right?
But maybe we put the cart before the horse, & continue to do so. I don’t deny that there are recreational drug users who overdose. I don’t deny that some who are given Rx painkillers to dull physical pain, get addicted to these drugs. These are both awful circumstances & outcomes. However, what I can’t fathom is how much we minimize (& often ignore) mental health’s role in DRIVING our drug abuse epidemic.
Why are so many turning to recreational drugs? Have we looked at whether the stigmas in schools still discourage those who need more formal help, to ask for it? Do we provide enough education related to how “normal” it is to deal with negative feelings & how there are other means to dampen & even remove these feelings besides drug use? Why can’t kids “just say no” all the time?
I wish Mental Health was prioritized at a greater level when I went to school. I wish I knew what to look out for with my own feelings…and how “normal” it was to feel other kinds of pain outside of physical pain from athletics. But more importantly, I now hope we will recognize how we are losing too many lives not to the “drug abuse” crisis alone, but to an under-prioritized mental health education system that fails to appropriately link these two topics closely enough on a national and international stage. Too many lives are being lost & still, so much of the same strategy remains. It’s time for change, & mandated & properly-funded school mental health programs must be part of that change.