Link between Mental Health Issues and Substance Abuse Explored at Fox Meadow HS

September 29, 2017

You are not alone.
That’s the message that an Ardsley mother – who lost her son to a drug overdose in 2013 – set out to spread to young people battling both mental health and substance abuse issues. After first speaking at Fox Meadow Middle/High School a year ago, Stephanie Marquesano returned this week to talk to new students and reconnect with ones who have joined her mission.
Marquesano began the Harris Project to publicize the problem of Co-Occurring Disorders in teens, which she ties to the death of her 19-year-old son, who dealt with extreme anxiety and ADHD along with substance abuse.  Once teenagers with mental health issues turn to drugs to self-medicate or quiet inner voices, the addiction problem often takes center stage. Rehabilitation programs, she charged, ignore underlying issues such as anxiety, depression and ADHD to focus on getting teens off drugs. That, she emphasized, is a big mistake.
“Belittling people, telling them to just say no is not effective,” Marquesano said. In Harris Marquesano’s case, every time a program dealt with his substance abuse, the anxiety struggles returned in a spiral that eventually ended in his overdose. Fox Meadow students inspired by her story began a Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness – or CODA – club last year.
One Fox Meadow senior said the club has opened his eyes to the magnitude of the problem and highlighted the importance of reaching out to help one another. Another senior in the program said the club has made her more aware of how her anxiety issues leave her more vulnerable to addiction. It has also helped her to know that so many others her age are also struggling.
“It’s good to feel like you’re not alone,” she said. In the CODA Club, Fox Meadow students also speak about how to change the way society views substance abuse and mental health problems – issues that Marquesano said affect 22 percent of young people aged 13 to 18. Despite that statistic, teenagers feel embarrassed to ask for help or talk to their friends or family about their feelings.
“Young people are struggling. They are not feeling comfortable in their own skin and they’re not getting help,” she said.  
Marquesano told students that they needed to start talking about mental health issues in the same way that they discuss physical problems. They also need to be active participants in their health care, questioning physicians or dentists about whether prescribed pain killers could lead to addiction.  Most of all, however, they and their families need to understand the relationship between mental health and substance abuse so they can get the right type of health and master their issues.  
“My story is tragic, but I hope you will be empowered to learn more about CODA,’’ Marquesano said.