Out About Recovery
By Meredith Hogan Pond
"When I was 15, I attempted suicide," said Lorrin McGinnis.
"My mom was devastated, and a lot of my friends felt hurt.
As a result, I decided about a week later that, okay, I can't live
for myself right now because I'm not happy, but I'm going to try
to live for other people. I was trying to make the biggest impact
I could in other people's lives because I felt like I couldn't do
that in my own life. The ironic part is that, by doing that, it
really helped me. I found purpose in my own life."
Now age 20 and studying for a degree in social work, Ms. McGinnis
is a youth coordinator at Utah Allies for Families in Ogden, UT.
"I was about 11 or 12 and I was using alcohol," said
Gerald Slaughter. "At 15 I was arrested, and I went to an outpatient
treatment center. But I continued to relapse," he said. "I
would show up and try to figure out how to pass the urine test.
It was a 1992 pilot program, an outpatient service for adolescents."
Mr. Slaughter, now 24, is a team leader at Thunder Road, a Medical
Center subsidiary, Chemical Dependency Recovery Hospital, and residential
group home for adolescents in Oakland, CA. He is also in college.
Both programs are funded in part by SAMHSA. Utah Allies
for Families, a participant in the Statewide Family Network
program, is funded by SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health
Services. The program provides information, referral,
and support to families of children and youth with or
at risk of experiencing serious emotional disturbances.
Thunder Road is a grantee of the Strengthening Communities
for Youth Program funded by SAMHSA's Center for Substance
Back to Top
These programs are an important part of SAMHSA's guiding matrix
area for children and families. One of the most fundamental tenets
is that services for children, adolescents, and their families should
be family-driven and youth-guided.
At a recent SAMHSA staff training, Ms. McGinnis and Mr. Slaughter
both offered their personal insights on the importance of involving
youth in their own treatment.
"Youth voices need to be heard," said Ms. McGinnis. "The
biggest thing is to have youth involved at all levels," she
said. "Youth should be at the center of their treatment plan,
and when there's a team, then everybody's at the table and the youth
is driving that team."
"In order to help anyone, you have to listen
to themespecially young people," said Mr.
Slaughter. "They are in the best place to tell you
where they are at. Traditionally, in our society, youth
are supposed to 'be seen but not heard,' but now, we
have youth that make a lot of noiseand not always
Ms. McGinnis agreed. "So many times, youth have problems with
authority figures, Because they find themselves in situations where
everything is dictated to them. But if programs have buy-in from
young people, then those programs are going to work. It's not enough
that you have family and professional partnerships."
Common sense is also a consideration, however. "I wouldn't
have someone come in off the street for treatment and dictate
how to handle their long-term program," Mr. Slaughter said.
"I'm not going to give them a blank check when they are coming
from their chaos and every moment is about their emotions instead
of thinking strategically."
Back to Top
Logically, there needs to be a balance with adolescents having
significant input into their treatment plan. "As far as mental
health and substance abuse treatment is concerned, said Mr. Slaughter,
"let's have family participation and buy-in, have clinicians
sit in, have a roundtable for youth to discuss in a very adult manner
what they are going to do about their treatment. Then, support their
goals, and when they meet a goal, move on."
What if adolescents don't meet their treatment goals? "Then
programs need to see what's going on, make adjustments, tailor it,
and maybe see if they need to go on a different course," he
said. "Life is like thateverything changes. For a young
person to say, 'Okay, I've had equal say in this and I've done the
work and now it's time for me to move in another direction,' or
'it's time for me to get out of here.' That's fair."
Schools need to partner more with the mental health system, according
to Ms. McGinnis. "When I was released from the hospital when
I was 12, I went back to school and they wanted to expel me. I had
a counselor take me out of the school and tell me flat out that
the principal wanted me removed from that school. I was a straight-A
student, never got in trouble, but I had been hospitalized for a
couple of months, and they had found out that I had been cutting
myself and that scared them."
"Why are dropout rates so high? Because the needs of young
people with mental illnesses are not being met in schools,"
she said. "The stigma surrounding mental health affects so
many young people I work with because there is no mental health
education in schools. I'd like to see mental health care systems
partner with the school boards to do more training, do more outreach,
educate teachers, be a resource for the schools, and provide technical
Back to Top
Peer support is another vital element in adolescent treatment.
"To have someone who understood what I was going throughsomeone
my age, not someone older dictating to methat's important,"
Mr. Slaughter said. "When people my age call me on my stuff
and say, 'Hey, what you're doing is unacceptable.' Initially, I
might not have heard it, but I respected it later because I understood
that there were people who were in it with me, calling me on my
behaviors. It really shined a light on areas I needed to change."
"When I was in treatment," Mr. Slaughter said, "there
were one or two young counselors, 21 or 22, who had been through
that program. They were a little bit older than me then, but not
old enough for me to consider them 'adults,' so I really listened
to them a lot because they came from a place of compassion."
"When I joined a youth advocacy group in Seattle, I was 15,"
said Ms. McGinnis. "The youth coordinator there was in her
thirties, more than twice my age. But she was bipolar also, and
she had been through some of the same things as me. I went to her
graduation when she got her master's degree in social work. I was
crying as she walked across the stage. Seeing her graduate made
me think, 'I can do that!' She gave me so much hope for my own life.
She'd been where I'd been, and now she was successful. She was somebody
I could go to, talk to, and I knew she understoodbecause she'd
been there. She had conquered some of the same things."
Being a mentor himself keeps Mr. Slaughter on his toes.
"There's a termkeeping your ear to the streets,"
he explains. "Youth entering treatmentit's
important to listen to them so you can help the next
young person. It's easy to get lost with all the new
lingo, the new drugs, the trends. To make it '3D,' you
really have to understand where they are coming from.
That takes a lot of patience and respect on the part
of the clinician. Kids pick up early on whether you respect
them. And if you don't respect them, they're not going
to respect you."
Faith in the process seems to be the key. "I believe in the
12-step concept," said Mr. Slaughter. "And for me, the
12th step is giving back and helping people."
For more information about SAMHSA's matrix program for children
and families, visit www.samhsa.gov/matrix/matrix
« See Also—Previous
AlsoNext Article »
Back to Top