Third Lunch & Learn focuses on mental illness, the brain and teens |

Third Lunch & Learn focuses on mental illness, the brain and teens

Ken Davis, outreach coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, leads a discussion during a Lunch and Learn presentation in early March.
Courtesy Photo

— Attendees at the third Lunch & Learn event about opiate use Wednesday learned about the relationship between addiction, mental illness and the brain, particularly for teens.

Addictions counselor Erika Schmitz, who works with Mind Springs Health, explained the similarities of what happens in the brain during substance abuse and when a person has a mental illness.

“Addiction is a mental illness,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz said that six in 10 people with a drug use disorder also suffer from mental illness, an instance called “comorbid.”

Comorbidity could mean that one disorder led to or caused the other, or it could exist because of the common risk factors for mental illness and drug abuse.

Schmitz discussed pleasure receptors in the brain, brain systems that respond to stress and how coping mechanisms differ between people.

Because the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, Schmitz said that young people are more likely than adults to poorly calculate risks and have trouble making sound decisions.

With this in mind, parents of children who do develop a substance abuse problem should get actively involved in the child’s recovery and consider taking the child to a specialist rather than a regular physician, she said.

“You have to get involved in the process,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz was one of three speakers during the event, which was the third of four Lunch & Learn events organized by a new Rx Task Force, which aims to raise awareness about prescription drug and opiate use locally.

Katy Thiel of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, which began a Youth Resiliency Program to target middle and high school students in Routt County coping with a loss or other challenges, also spoke Wednesday.

The program teaches students to acknowledge feelings of loss and then move forward by setting goals and refocusing on passions, Thiel said.

“Don’t push feeling down, because they will come out in other ways,” Thiel said.

Attendees also heard about the importance of preventing drug use early from Grand Futures Prevention Coalition’s Routt County Program Director Cassandra Vigil.

Vigil said 2013 survey results showed that 3.1 percent of Routt County teens had tried heroin and more than 12 percent had used a prescription drug without a prescription.

“The earlier they start, the higher the risk,” Vigil said.

Vigil introduced Steamboat Springs High School juniors and Teen Council members Jessica Sandvik and Meg Anderson, who read quotes from the blog of a former heroin addict when she was in high school elsewhere in Colorado.

The teens later helped field questions about prevention from the audience.

“I feel like it’s one of those things that could be talked about more,” Anderson said.

When asked what else parents can do to support prevention efforts, Rx Task Force founder Mara Rhodes said that spreading the word to friends is key.

“All adults, we have a big role to play, and not just with our own kids,” Rhodes said. “Tell you friends what you heard today, and what you heard last time and the time before, and what you hear next week. If we don’t share this information, this will all fizzle out and die.”

The final Lunch & Learn presentation is scheduled for noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 23 at Library Hall and will feature Dr. Dave Wilkinson from Yampa Valley Medical Center and Jen Murphy from The Foundry.

The Rx Task Force will also present “The Impacts of Marijuana On Our Kids, What We Need To Know And What We Need To Say” along with the Marijuana Education Initiative from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12 at Library Hall.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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