Oyster River High School (ORHS) contracted their first full-time Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC), Britta Bartlett, to help with the increased needs of those struggling with mental health and substance abuse.
Bartlett works with students struggling with addictive behaviors, including substance abuse problems such as the use of alcohol and drugs. While this is her specialization and focus at the school, she is also a licensed mental health professional and an accessible resource for students regarding mental health, working to provide a safe space for all students.
She originally got a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and then a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in substance use. When Bartlett first started, she wanted to work in the prison system with inmates to figure out the reasoning behind their substance abuse, helping to prevent re-incarceration. Then, her path shifted, and she began working with adolescents.
“[Substance abuse and mental health concerns] start at a very young age…so hopefully through getting to work with [students], we can avoid prolonging [these struggles], setting them up [for success]. With everything going on in the adolescent world right now, I think it’s important that [students] feel like they have some supports and resources available to them,” said Bartlett.
In prior years, specifically throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in substance abuse at ORHS, as well as mental health crises. Before this, ORHS had a part-time LADC, who was a resource for students for about 20 hours a week while also facilitating her own mental health practice. However, as our needs substantially increased, her availability drastically decreased. “During COVID, her private practice exploded, so she became super busy…she couldn’t give us even the 20 hours a week that we had [been receiving], and her absence was really felt,” said Jason Baker, a School Counselor at ORHS.
“Personally, I acknowledge my limitations. I’m not up to date on the best practices in treating substance abuse. The worst thing you can do in a helping profession is create [the idea] that you’re helping when you’re not. [Substance abuse] is a more intense level of need our kids have than we’re trained to support as a school counselor,” said Baker. He strongly felt a full-time LADC was needed to ensure that students who are struggling receive the proper help they need.
While Bartlett’s role is still being defined based on the specific needs of students at ORHS, she is largely focused on working with students who have been identified to struggle with addictive behavior, whether that be self-identified, or identified by someone else, such as a parent, teacher, or friend.
“It may not be drugs or alcohol. It could be addiction to energy drinks or some maybe maladaptive eating patterns or exercise or cell phones, you know, any behaviors that are interfering with daily life,” noted Bartlett.
As mentioned before, Bartlett is also a licensed mental health professional, working to help students with related struggles, as well as encouraging students to be mindful of their mental health. This has allowed Bartlett to enter the Counselor On-Call system at ORHS, which ensures that each day there is a counselor available solely for unplanned student needs, whether that be a mental health crisis or someone who may just be having a rough day.
“She takes on-call students as well, so [students are able to] drop in on her whenever they need,” said Shannon Caron, the director of counseling at ORHS. Because of Bartlett’s more flexible schedule, she can also serve as an extra counselor for the days she isn’t on-call.
A significant aspect of Bartlett’s job is confidentiality, which is something that Bartlett wanted to make very clear. “It’s not like I’m calling your parents after every time we meet and informing them what’s happening, of course, unless there’s a safety issue. Parents don’t need to be notified at all [if you see the LADC]. I know that can be a huge barrier, but if someone stops by, it’s not like I’m calling their parents to let them know,” she said.
“Having someone that you can be open with to receive support and resources is really nice…the confidentiality piece acts as a safety net, and really provides security which you may not get when talking to a school counselor,” said an anonymous student source who meets with Bartlett.
Baker touched on this as well, wanting to ensure students that confidentiality is a priority, and something they have to legally abide by. “If anyone’s worried that she’s going to report to parents or leadership up front or anyone that a kid disclosed they’re using, she’s not. She can’t; she would lose her licensures through the New Hampshire Board of Mental Health Practice.” Without her license, she wouldn’t have a job. While having a job isn’t her only motivation to maintain confidentiality, that fact can add a layer of security for students considering meeting with her.
While Bartlett is currently on maternity leave, she proactively worked with students she was seeing to ensure they receive adequate support in her absence through school counselors or outpatient support. The school has also re-contracted the previous LADC for the time being to help the school counselors provide support for struggling students.
Overall, Bartlett hopes that her office can be a safe space for many students. “I’m available to students who may be more nervous or haven’t even shared [about their addiction] with anyone. Sometimes, you know, there’s a stigma out there around addiction which can [be a barrier] for kids,” she said.
Baker reiterated this. “She’s really a resource to all students, and no one should be afraid to see her. Whatever fears, concerns, or hesitations they would have about meeting with her, they’ll be dispelled pretty quickly [once you meet her]. I just hope no one is hesitant to walk through her door,” he said.
Bartlett truly emphasized that she is here for all students and wants to be someone who students feel comfortable coming to. “My door is always open for students. I am ready to meet with whoever wants support, whatever the reason may be.”