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Chemical dependency counseling added to EHS system of support aimed at student mental health

Chris Lawler headshot Jan. 2, 2019 - Another means of supporting and guiding Edina High School (EHS) students toward wellness is in place with the addition of chemical dependency counseling services on campus. Beginning in October, a $20,000 grant from the Edina Community Health Commission has funded the district’s contract with Relate Counseling Center to provide what had been a missing link in the continuum of services focused on student mental health.

Similar on-campus support services were begun two years ago when the district partnered with Family Innovations and Fraser to provide enhanced mental health support for students. The model has been very successful in making access to services easier, according to Jeff Jorgensen, director of student support services. However, chemical dependency is often linked to mental health issues, as a cause or an effect, and it requires a different approach.

“There is a link between chemical dependency and mental health and we need to address both sides of the issue,” said Jorgensen, “Once you get control of the chemical dependency, then you can start to address mental health issues.”

Chris Lawler, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with Relate, has an office located within the EHS counseling department. He is available two days a week offering direct services, intervention and education. He works with students found in violation of the district’s chemical use policy, including vaping, smoking and use of drugs, as well as with students or parents who have concerns.

“It can be a lot less stressful for a student to seek counseling in a familiar school environment,” Lawler said. “Access to services is one of the biggest advantages of having chemical dependency counseling on the school campus.” Lawler, who has a similar on-campus partnership at another metro high school, said that his presence in the school allows students a chance to build a relationship with him.  He is also better able to work and build relationships with the school’s counselors, social workers and teaching staff to build awareness and recognition of behaviors that may be related to chemical use, and to help them know how to support students who are committed to overcoming destructive habits.

One of Lawler’s key objectives this year is to start an EHS chapter of SADD – Students Against Destructive Decisions. “Youth absorb messages from their peers differently than they do from adults,” he said. “Youth speak their own ‘language’ and are many times experts on the problems facing their peers. Providing them with leadership opportunities to communicate anti-use messages can lead to some creative, fun and very effective projects.”

Lawler has office hours at EHS every Tuesday and Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is available for appointments or walk-ins, Students or parents may contact him by phone, 952-848-3194, or email chris.lawler@edinaschools.org

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