Thursday, December 25, 2014

School board still focusing on mental health

The Rainy River District School Board is continuing its effort to help students with mental health issues.
Darryl Gannon of Atikokan High School and Michelle Mosbeck of Fort Frances High School, both members of the Mental Health and Wellness Committee, spoke to the board during its regular meeting last week about what they learned by attending the Summit on Children and Youth Mental Health last month in Toronto.

“It is estimated that one-in-five students will have a significant mental health problem or disorder during the course of their schooling,” noted Gannon, saying of those who need help, it is predicted only one-in-six are receiving the mental health services they need.
“Those numbers are disturbing to me,” he remarked.
He added that many adults who suffer with mental health issues had their symptoms begin during their youth.
Gannon said board staff have long recognized that mental health issues are a critical component to academic success.
With the introduction of the “Safe School” initiative in 2008, the board has partnered with Family and Children’s Services (now the Kenora Rainy-River Districts Child and Family Services) to provide a part-time counsellor to provide short-term mental health supports for students aged 12 and older who require it.
It also has worked with community partners to identify supports outside of the board for students and their families, and has partnered with the local Canadian Mental Health Association to promote greater mental health awareness and stigma reduction.
In addition to forming the Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which is comprised of staff, community partners, and parent reps, a two-day mental health first aid training was offered this past spring, with 35 staff members across the district participating.
The board also has worked to have three certified mental health first aid trainers within the district.
Mosbeck said the course teaches people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person toward appropriate professional help.
“We weren’t trained to be therapists but just to be that middle person,” she explained.
“To be someone who has the understanding to get them the help they need.”
Mosbeck added it’s also important to educate people that it’s okay to ask for help—and that there are people there to support them.
“We have the services but they are under-utilized,” noted Gannon.
“We have to help people be aware of mental health symptoms before it deteriorates into something very significant for them,” he stressed.
“And for students to be able to recognize it in themselves and peers.”
“We all have mental health that we need to look after,” echoed Mosbeck.
Student trustee Dexter Fichuk also participated in the summit in Toronto, which was attended by more than 700 educators, counsellors, and mental-health workers.
“We learned about the real stigmas surrounding mental health issues, along with what a modern bully really looks like,” said Fichuk, noting another topic discussed was the impact of too much stress on a teenager’s brain.
Moving forward, Gannon said the Mental Health and Wellness Committee is focusing on two goals: to increase the percentage of students who receive help and to expand prevention initiatives in the board.
In their effort to help more students, he said more staff will be trained this year in mental health first aid, and that there will be the implementation of a mental health and addiction nurse, potentially by the spring, through the Regional Community Care Access Centre.
And he added they hope to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
But Gagnon warned increasing services, training, and awareness always comes with a price tag.
“Can we afford this?” he asked. “How can we afford not to invest in our youth?”

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