Summit County students collaborate for panel event on substance abuse, mental health | ParkRecord.com

Summit County students collaborate for panel event on substance abuse, mental health

Maya Levine, a Park City High School student, speaks to parents during a previous panel held by the Communities that Care Youth Council. The upcoming event, Teen Talk, will address mental health and substance abuse issues.

If parents want to understand substance abuse in the schools, it will help to listen to the ones who truly have their fingers on the pulse of the issue.

Students from Park City, South Summit and North Summit school districts are set to speak to parents about substance abuse and mental health during an upcoming event titled Teen Talk. The panel is set to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 at South Summit High School. It is free and open to the public.

Teens on the Summit County chapter of Communities that Care Youth Council organized the event, and seven members are set to be panelists. Students will respond to prompts such as "Tell us about the culture in your school regarding mental health and substance abuse issues" and "What are we, as parents, doing that is not helpful or not supportive?"

Communities that Care is a program designed to help communities address adolescent health and behavior issues.

Audrey Buchanan, a junior at Park City High School and a leader of two mental health clubs, said the council has been planning the event since the fall. They came up with the idea for the teen panel while discussing issues they felt were affecting students.

Buchanan, who will be on the panel, said the event will allow parents to peek into their children's minds for an evening and hear their opinions. She said the students chose to talk about difficult subjects because they want parents to turn around and address the issues with their kids.

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"The only way to solve the issue of substance abuse is to talk about it," she said. "If children aren't informed, they have no chance of making informed decisions."

Mary Christa Smith, Communities that Care coordinator, said the students determined early on that the event would focus on educating parents.

"There is a perception among the kids that the parents really need greater information," she said.

She said the students realized through their own experiences that many parents are unaware of substance abuse problems, or they were "contributing to and modeling the bad behavior."

Gracie Averett, a senior at South Summit High School, said it is intimidating to tell parents what they are doing wrong, but adults have asked her what they can do to help. The panel plans to answer that question.

"It's helpful to be able to speak and tell them, 'This is what we want' and 'This is the change you need to bring,'" she said.

Averett has been heavily involved in mental health awareness for the last few years. She helped co-found the STAR Club at her high school, which stands for Students Take an Active Role. It helps educate students about taking charge of their mental health and happiness.

As an advocate for mental health, she said students sometimes approach her and other peers to share their struggles. Averett said she loves being there for students going through hard times, but it is difficult to listen and find resources when students have severe mental health issues or addictions.

She wants to see more adults step up to help students who need it.

"I've seen how mental health (issues) can lead to substance abuse, and I've seen how substance abuse can ruin a family and ruin someone's life," she said. "If we can avoid all these problems that are popping up, we really do have the power to change the world. But we have to survive being a youth and being a kid before we can go out and change the world."

Aiding struggling students is why she started the STAR Club, and she is fired up to change the culture about mental health in her hometown.

Smith said it is important for parents to hear about issues taking place in schools from the students themselves.

"Their words carry weight and value among all of us who are doing this work together. This is the population that we are seeking to serve, and it is so valuable to hear from them authentically," she said. "They have a unique insight that none of the rest of us have."

Smith is expected to moderate the event. For the first hour, panel members will answer questions they helped draft. Then, those in attendance will be able to ask the panel their own questions.

Buchanan said she is looking forward to the audience question-and-answer portion of the event because she wants to answer parents' questions. She, Averett and Smith all hope the event inspires parents and adults in the community to do things differently.

Smith said she wants the event to change false assumptions about substance abuse, and for parents to understand ways they unconsciously perpetuate stigmas.

She is glad to see more awareness and more participation among community members about mental health and substance abuse issues over the last couple years. She said seeing the students organize events like the teen talk to discuss difficult topics is inspirational.

"These young people to me are so far ahead of the curve, and it gives me great hope for our future that they display this kind of leadership at such a young age," she said.