“The chicken or the egg” Drug counselor addresses link between mental health and drug use

Carlee Rigatuso, Reporter

In October of 2019, Bellevue Public schools was awarded the School Climate Transformation grant, with the intention of creating a better school climate through actions such as hiring new teachers, counselors, and even school social workers. 


One of the additions made possible through this grant was Bellevue Public Schools drug counselor Maggie Forman. Forman has a masters degree in curriculum and instruction and in school counseling. While Forman does a variety of work such as updating curriculum and speaking in classes, she spends the majority of her job working with students who struggle with drug abuse. 


“I get referrals several ways: if parents are seeing things at home and let the school know, they’re referred to me, if the parents want them to start seeing me,” Forman said. “Sometimes kids are kind of mandatorily referred to me because they’ve been caught at school with some sort of substance, or I just become part of the student’s learning plan when they’re in diversion or involved in the juvenile justice system.” 


Forman expressed concerns about the growing normalization of drug use in teens. She said she believes a variety of things can influence initial use and one of those common influences include neglected mental health. w


“I’d say kids are a lot less fine than parents give them credit for,” Forman said. “I think they’re looking for any quick fix if they come from a family where mental health is not something that’s talked about or that they purposefully wouldn’t seek help for their child. A lot of those kids turn to those kinds of things to self medicate.” 


Forman referred to the problem of mental health and drug abuse as “the chicken or the egg.” She explained that not only can mental health problems lead to drug use, but that drug use can also lead to mental health problems or worsen existing ones. 


“Mental health is becoming more socially acceptable and is being diagnosed properly now, which means there’s a lot of kids who are getting the treatment they need,” Forman said. “With that said a lot of these kinds of things like nicotine, THC and any other drugs really, have a negative side effect when you’re using those kinds of pharmaceuticals.”


Forman pointed out that the drugs themselves have also drastically changed within even the last few years. She said she believes the information given about drugs can also be misleading, leaving a lot of students in danger. 


“I would say when I talk with kids, they are probably going to rank cigarette smoking as more harmful than using marijuana these days just because of all the mixed messages out there,” Forman said. “It’s interesting to see how different marijuana really is. It is not ‘Woodstock weed’” anymore. Genetic engineering raised the THC concentrate levels. Your ‘Woodstock weed’” was like 1% THC, street weed is 15 to 19 concentrates and ranges from 40 to 90% thc concentrates. Really high doses of THC. Getting it really fast, like with dabbing, can cause seizures, because it’s just so much.”


Forman said she believes education is most important when it comes to drug use. She explained how it’s a critical conversation because kids often want education, but lack it. Forman said that she doesn’t believe any of the kids she works with make poor decisions with bad intentions. 


“People always assume that the kids I work with are the naughty kids,” Forman said. “I don’t work with any naughty kids. I work with great kids, great kids that are smart and are successful, that make mistakes. It just is what it is. Kids come from all different kinds of environments. And some do great things on their own and are self motivated, independent, and some kids need a little more support.” 


Forman said she wishes people, especially parents, could recognize that these students are struggling and need support. She described how she personally has made mistakes in her own life and is grateful for the people who were patient with her, attributing her success to the encouragement and support she received. 


“There’s no reason to start bawling about the past, you can’t change a darn thing, but you can focus on the future,” Forman said. “We all make mistakes. To belittle someone because they made a mistake is non-productive, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. It’s gonna ruin your relationship. Honestly, kids are gonna screw up a lot, but it’s those amazing adults in their life that keep them on the right path that get them through.”