Kekava | Latvia
Preventive measures for the reduction of addictions of young people in Kekava Municipality (Latvia)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of young people has deteriorated. Even before the pandemic, Latvia ranked the lowest in many mental health indicators of young people, including the number of suicides and the drug addiction (at the age of 15-16, young people in Latvia use marijuana more often than the average in European countries as a whole). As specialists admit, the situation has deteriorated significantly due to the pandemic. Especially this can be observed among young people from different risk groups. The consumption of alcohol and drugs has increased, as evidenced, for example, by the increasing number of administrative protocols. Alcohol has become more available as it can be ordered also online with home delivery. The number of users of psychotropic drugs, such as antidepressants and sedatives, and also so called “sleeping pills”, is also growing, including among young people – people are trying to treat their anxiety, insomnia, depression medically. Young people themselves admit that also their cyber dependence – excessive use of a computer or social networks – has increased during the pandemic.
When asked what young people need most to help with their mental health problems, the most frequent answers include opportunities to spend more time with friends, possibilities to have physical activity and do sports, also psychological counselling or psychotherapy are mentioned as one of the most important types of support. Joint activities with the family, opportunities to spend time in youth centers, a possibility to talk to an adult outside the family, etc. are also mentioned as useful support. Specialists also point out that quality free time reduces the risk of addictions, as well as emphasizes the need to act preventively, proactively, finding ways how to effectively reach out to young people, offering alternative activities and leisure activities.
Preventive steps to reduce addiction is instrumental in strengthening the mental health of young people. In Ķekava municipality various preventive measures are implemented, including:
• Addiction Prevention Specialist Service of Ķekava Municipality Municipal Institution “Social Service”
The addiction prevention specialist provides consultations to inhabitants and specialists on issues related to addiction and co-dependence. It includes individual counseling for children, adults and families; informing on addiction and co-dependence processes and their possible consequences on mental and physical health and social contacts; work with motivation to stop addictive lifestyle; maintenance of remission, awareness and search for resources during the period of remission, support and resources in drawing up a recovery plan; psychological support for relatives, family members of the addict (if signs of co- dependent behavior are observed). Support and education is also provided to parents of young people (both individually, for example, how to meet needs of teenagers the peculiarities of different age groups, the importance of participation to changes the behavior of teenagers, etc.; in the group – the parent support group “Guide to Raising a Teenager”.
Addiction prevention work with young people and adults, both individually and in a group, continued also during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying a new method of work – working with a group of young people who already have experience of substance abuse. In February-March 2022, eight students of grades 5-8 of Kekava Secondary School attended three group classes with an addiction prevention specialist after a referral from a social pedagogue from the school. Group classes were recommended in conjunction with students’ experiences of substance abuse and the need to motivate them to stop an addictive lifestyle. During the group classes, students’ experiences and habits of substance abuse were discussed, as well as negative consequences, the benefits of abstinence from substance abuse, and alternatives to substance abuse. Emotional support was provided to youngsters in relation to possible difficulties in their relationships with peers and conflict resolution. As far as possible, students were motivated to resume or start focusing on meaningful leisure activities outside the school (according to their interests, they were also introduced to the activities offered by the local Youth Centre).
In general, the students were motivated to collaborate and participate in the group. They were open to conversations about their experiences of substance abuse, they did not hesitate to express their opinion on the possible risks and reasons for starting or resuming the use of addictive substances. Most of the students in the group were contact- oriented. As an important factor for participation in the group, students indicated the need for a sense of acceptance and emotional support, encouragement, which is noted as an important factor in building relationships and contact with educators, parents, etc. During the pandemic In 2021 also other cooperation opportunities were offered to schools in Ķekava Municipality for addiction prevention work (for example, support groups for children “Life School”, grades 1-4 or 5-9, mainly from families with addiction), as well as individual work with young people, their parents.
Events organized by the Sports Agency of Ķekava Municipality
Also during the emergency situation caused by the pandemic, which imposed various restrictions on public events, the Sports Agency continued to successfully organize sports events and classes that promote a healthy lifestyle – orienteering competitions, hiking, Nordic walking, skiing, jogging, gymnastics, yoga classes, etc. The events were organized either remotely or in person, observing the restrictions for public events (maximum number of participants, only for participants with vaccination or recovery certificate etc.). The Agency informed about the events on its website and social network accounts, inciting to participate and detailing the rules and regulations. Most of the events were free of charge as the classes were financed by the EU European Social Fund project “Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Ķekava Municipality”. In order to make the events more attractive also supporters – local entrepreneurs – were attracted who offered prizes for participants.
For example, in 2021, from October 23 to November 7, the traditional orienteering competitions “Come-together of Sporting Families 2021” took place remotely. Three routes were elaborated and participants could choose one, two or all them, downloading them electronically or collecting its printed version from a special box put up for this purpose at the Sports Club. On each route 15 checkpoints were marked, and participants had to be answer questions at each of the points when they find them. Completed cards and one family picture (taken at one of the checkpoints) had to be sent electronically to the sports agency. Those participants who answered all the questions correctly took part in the prize draw, which took place on November 9 live on the Facebook and Instagram accounts of the sports agency. The prizes were offered by 6 Latvian companies supporting the event.
Activities of non-governmental organizations
In cooperation with the municipality, the association “OPEN Creative Center” opened a center in Baloži town – a place where young people aged 13 and over can come to spend their free time, or to express themselves creatively. There are opportunities to play games, read books, participate in physical activities – “These are neither educational nor crisis centers, we do not teach to live and do not solve the problems instead of young people, but we give a safe place to shelter, make yourself eat, do your homework or just be at peace”, the organizers say.
Addiction prevention work.
Group classes led by an addiction prevention specialist to promote motivation to stop using addictive substances were attended by 8 students. The students were motivated to cooperate, were actively involved in group work, gained new knowledge, emotional support and encouragement, but repeated interviews with students have not been conducted to check if the students have managed to reduce or stop the use of addictive substances after group classes (6 months have passed). In addition to that group, during the Covid-19 pandemic (January 2021 – July 2022) 25 children and young people aged 9-17 years have received individual consultations by the addiction prevention specialist of the municipal Social Service. The following has been noted by the addiction prevention specialist as the main addictions in the group of consulted youngsters – cyberaddition (computer games, social networks, smart devices) and abuse of psychoactive substances – nicotine (mainly smoking e-cigarettes), snuss, marijuana, alcohol, in some cases amphetamine, etc. Also explicit symptoms of depression, episodes of self-harm were often observed Sports Agency events The number of participants in face-to-face events organized by the Sports Agency was determined by epidemiological restrictions. The remotely organized events, however, enjoyed attendance of even up to 250 participants.
As addiction prevention specialist concludes, she managed to establish good contact with the target audience. A supportive factor to successful outcome was the motivation of young people themselves to participate in support groups/individual work. The participating young people appreciated also empathy of the specialist, her knowledge and ability to understand the peculiarities of the respective age group and non-judgmental attitude which was essential to have fruitful discussion on the experience of using addictive substances and possible reasons for use in the past or present. The young people note that this is important to have a good dialogue with adults (parents, specialists, teachers, etc.).
Things to be improved – greater participation and openness of parents, educators, etc. in dealing with teenagers’ mental health difficulties, often there is denial, resistance, lack of information on issues related to adolescent mental health difficulties (mainly primary care persons).
“When starting remote activities, we ourselves were faced with ignorance, we had doubts about responsiveness of potential participants and success! However, seeing the great response of the people and their desire to participate, we realized that we were doing the right thing! Inhabitants were like “thirsty” for activities. The success of remote activities was facilitated by the restrictions (some periods – complete ban) on holding public events. With our activities everyone had the opportunity to be active and participate in one of the activities at their preferred time!”
The implemented measures have provided significant support to the inhabitants of Ķekava municipality, including young people, in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce the negative impact on mental health caused by the COVI D-19 pandemic. The participants of the activities very much appreciated the opportunities offered.
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