Anxiety is a growing problem for students of all ages and backgrounds. Fortunately, many are helping to educate students and others about the causes and potential solutions for this nervous disorder.
In addition to the work being done at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (see June, 2015 issue), there are others who are working specifically with students to support them and others in the community.
Dr. Nada Milosavljevic (a.k.a., “Dr. Milo”) is a Board-certified physician and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. In addition to conventional medicine, Dr. Milo practices Integrative Medicine (e.g., acupuncture, herbs and supplements, etc.) to help with cognitive and behavioral conditions. As the founder of the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, the former attorney works with a set of school-based clinics to help high-school students who suffer from anxiety.
“Stress is stress,” Dr. Milo maintains. “When stress goes unchecked and becomes chronic, it can lead to a serious anxiety disorder in addition to…other health hazards,” all of which, Dr. Milo suggests, are increasingly prevalent among young people.
“Teens face stressful situations at school, at home, in social interactions, and as a result of after-school work or other activity,” Dr. Milo says.
While treatments exist, there are often obstacles that prevent those who need them most from benefitting.
“Exciting high-tech advances ...ffer a wealth of treatment options to patients,” Dr. Milo suggests, “but limited access to care, rising healthcare costs, and fears of potential long-term effects…require alternatives that make care more accessible, more affordable, and minimally invasive.”
In her latest research, Dr. Milo focused on the design and implementation of treatment programs by working directly with high school students.
“The use of integrative protocols and sensory therapies such as acupuncture and aromatherapy offers many benefits to teens suffering from anxiety disorders,” Dr. Milo observes, “including self-empowerment, self-care, and long-term preventive care.”
Over the course of a three-year study, Dr. Milo worked with students who had been referred by teachers, parents, and health care providers for anxiety.
“There was a need among high school students for healthy, natural options to manage stress and anxiety and a paucity of research that could effectively evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of…protocols,” Dr. Milo explains when asked why she undertook this study. “This was the first study of its kind in the U.S. to collaborate with school clinics, manage school-based programs, and conduct a research study evaluating and providing integrative…treatments.”
So far, over 100 students have participated in 10-week protocols and all have reported improvement in their mental state and wellbeing.
“In fact,” Dr. Milo says, “many participating students achieved a 30% reduction in stress levels!”
After a series of 30-minute sessions, participants are offered individualized treatment plans that were designed minimize disruption of the school day while allowing and encouraging access to appropriate care. Not only did the program not get in the way of the students’ attendance, it actually increased attendance by decreasing absenteeism for offsite clinical appointments.
“One of the goals of the study was to build a workable model that could offer cost-effective on-site care,” Dr. Milo explains, noting that the early adopter schools were “eager to explore beneficial and unique programs to further the health and wellness of their student populations.”
In addition to working with students, Dr. Milo also supports teachers and administrators by educating them about the wide array of available therapies and how to use them most effectively.
“When I started the research,” Dr. Milo explains, “I realized that a community-based approach was likely to have the greatest impact…. We decided to reach out to the places where the patients (in this case students) were located, so high schools made the most sense.”
Now that the study has proven so useful, Dr. Milo hopes that the program can be put to work in all 41 school-based health centers in MA and hopefully even beyond the Commonwealth’s borders. Having already published and presented her research, Dr. Milo is confident that others are learning of her work and will soon come calling.
“We are optimistic that the program can expand throughout the state of Massachusetts,” she says, “and into other states with similar facilities that can accommodate replications of this groundbreaking program.”
“The school-based health center has been providing comprehensive primary care, including behavioral health services, to the students since 1990, explains Jordan Hampton, who has been the pediatric nurse practitioner and program manager of the MGH Student Health Center at Chelsea High School.
As the school population has “high rates of trauma,” Hampton recalls being excited to be involved when she was first approached with the idea of participating in the study.
“Trauma...affects their school performance and general well being,” she observes, noting that many students are “resistant to traditional talk therapy and psychotropic medicine to address their issues,” thereby making them ideal candidates for so-called “alternative” modalities.
“The program has been a huge addition to the services provided at the school-based health center,” Hampton says, “and I am thrilled that we were the first to offer it!”