High school students show greater interest in mental health activities

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Across Canada, the month of May was dedicated to mental health awareness — and at the forefront of promoting mental health at Fort Frances High School have been several mental health advocates who engaged with students every Wednesday at a little booth during the lunch hour.

Mary Croswell, child and youth mental health clinician for the Kenora Rainy River District Child and Family Services (KRRCFS) and at the high school, came up with the idea for the booth. “Mental health has been kind of on the minds of lots of people now,” she said.

“I just thought it was really cool to see all the kids that have shown an interest and just being able to show that they can talk about mental health. Trying to stop the stigma of mental health, and turning it into more of a positive thing.”

Their booth was set up every Wednesday during lunchtimes in May, the time when there was the most traffic in the high school, Croswell said.

Students could spin the wheel and learn more about coping strategies, win prizes, receive hoodies donated by KRRCFS, speak with the representatives about mental health, and most of all, learn that their mental health is something that matters.

In particular, the mental health wheel garnered good conversations because students were asked for examples of how they could use the coping mechanisms on the wheel.

Croswell also shared this year’s mental health month theme was #MyStory.

“Everyone has a mental health story. It doesn’t matter where you come from, how old you are, we all have our own mental health stories. So I thought that was a really great initiative that the Canadian Mental Health Association put together this year,” she said.

Also in attendance at the booth each week were Tracey Idle, mental health lead for the Rainy River District School Board, and Joleen Hogan, mental health and addictions nurse at the high school.

“We collaborated together and just thought that bringing awareness was important here at the school,” Croswell said.

Idle noted that she was impressed by the level of participation this year. In previous years, a mental health fair was held, she said, and this is the first year for the mental health booth.

“Adolescence can be difficult to engage, so I was just really impressed that the students were engaged in the activities and did participate in actually practicing the coping strategies,” she said.

Croswell acknowledged that having the school’s full support made organizing the booth much easier. “The principals here were like, ‘Go for it, just do whatever you need.’”

“We’re very fortunate because not all schools have that opportunity to have a mental health counsellor right at the schools for students to access,” Croswell said.

Being new to her role as mental health clinician at the high school, Croswell said she has learned a lot this year working with students.

“I have the opportunity to learn from the students about mental health in ways that I’ve maybe never thought of before. So that would be something that I’m really thankful for. And being able to be that person that kids come to that may not have someone to be able to talk about their mental health with,” she said.

Opening up about one’s mental health can be challenging, which is why Croswell says it’s so important to build a safe space in schools.

“Students for whatever reason don’t feel like they have those support people to be able to talk to. So giving them that place, a safe place in the school, to be able to access it when they need to, I think is really important,” she said.

“The strength and the resilience of students even being able to just walk through my door and sit down in my office to share their thoughts and feelings, because that’s not an easy thing for a lot of people.”

Uncertain if she’ll be present at the high school next year, Croswell said she still hopes that some mental health initiatives will continue every year for students.

“I think it has to be looked at and talked about. You don’t want to keep it to yourself, so I think by doing that on a regular basis would bring more awareness and being at the high school I think is a really good place for it,” she said.

“There is that range of ages where young people are going through their lives with challenges right, small or big, right? So, yeah, I’d like to see that actually happen every year here at the high school.”

Idle said this year she was able to establish a “student mental health champion” for each school in the RRDSB. “They’re going to be working on different activities within their schools throughout the year,” she said.

Training with students has already begun, said Idle, and some of the schools have already started various initiatives. “It’s also an opportunity for them to take a leadership role in promoting mental health within their school,” she said.