Public school board outlines mental health support efforts

Sam Odrowski

Having good mental health is critical to a person’s overall well-being while poor mental health can cause some to have issues with their performance at work or school.
To address this issue, the Rainy River District School Board has implemented several different programs and campaigns to help both students and staff with their mental health.
These programs were highlighted in a presentation by Tracey Idle, the board’s mental health leader, during its regular monthly meeting last Tuesday night at the Education Centre here.
Through her work with the board, Idle wants to break down barriers while creating a more open dialogue and understanding of mental health.
“The biggest hope I have is that there is a reduced stigma around talking about mental illness and really also a focus on what mental wellness is,” she remarked.
“We want to make sure staff and students can know how to take care of their mental health.”
Idle also noted mental health and education are strongly linked together and students can’t perform well academically if they’re needs aren’t being met mentally.
“Poor mental health is associated with poor school attendance and academic performance,” she stressed.
“It often leads to alienation and marginalization.
“It [also] increases the likelihood of alcohol and illicit drug use, is linked to poorer life experiences and outcomes, and is a major risk factor for self-harming and suicide,” Idle added.
As many as one-in-five youth experience mental health problems in Ontario, which demonstrates the need for schools to have appropriate supports available.
For Idle’s presentation, she discussed the board’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, which identifies four main areas of focus: mental health promotion, engagement with stakeholders, evidence-based and informed practices and programming, and capacity building/safeguards.
For the promotion of mental health, Idle is working to have in place both educator and student mental health champions in each of the board’s schools.
“It’s a chance for me to get staff and student voice at the school level, as well as provide them with information that they can share within the schools,” she explained.
Presentations also are being given to staff, students, and parents regarding identified mental health concerns.
The promotion of staff well-being is done through the Well-Being Committee, which aims to identify needs and provide support through things like the “Not Myself Today” campaign.
“The campaign provides online information about mental health and well-being for staff,” Idle noted.
It outcomes are geared towards creating a greater awareness and understanding of mental health in the workforce, reducing stigma, and fostering safe and supportive work cultures.
Engagement with stakeholders, meanwhile, helps to better identify the well-being of students and enhance their system of care.
Part of this engagement is done through the board’s new partnership with the Kenora-Rainy River District Child and Family Services.
Since September, this partnership has expanded the number of clinicians working in all the board’s schools to 4.5 while their services have expanded from solely providing individual counselling to also providing small group sessions, drop-in support, and classroom/staff presentations.
As of January, KRRDCFS saw a total of 188 students for counselling within the board–and 83 of them have used the walk-in service.
“I’m glad that the service is being used and I know that teachers have been telling me that they are seeing a difference already,” Idle enthused.
“The school-based counselling is just short-term, up to 10 sessions, but they’re seeing students even after three or four sessions coming back to the classroom better able to do the work,” she added.
School climate surveys were completed in partnership with the Northwestern Health Unit between Nov. 19 and Dec. 9 with Grades 4-12, and the results will be used to update the board’s school improvement, bullying prevention, and intervention plans.
“We’re still processing the results,” Idle noted. “I’ll be working with school principals and if there’s certain areas that they’re identifying that they need some help with, then we’ll be looking to do that.”
Evidence-based and informed practices and programming is another priority for the board’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
To promote mindful self-regulation, understanding stress, how to manage tension, and energy flow, the board has introduced the “Shanker Self-Reg” program.
It helps people understand and respond to others, as well as themselves, by considering self-regulation with respect to a person’s biological, emotion, cognitive, social, and pro-social domains.
Zones of Regulation strategies are used to teach students to become more aware of and independent in controlling their emotions and impulses.
It also helps them to manage their sensory needs and improve their ability to problem-solve conflicts.
The MindUP curriculum provides strategies for helping students focus their attention, improve skills in self-regulation, build resilience to stress, and develop a positive mindset in school and life.
The Circles Program, meanwhile, is designed to assist students in discriminating different levels of relationships and adapting their behaviours accordingly.
As well, it teaches them how relationships can be formed and maintained.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project is a another tool that can be used to help students build positive body confidence and self-esteem.
Lastly, the board’s efforts with respect to capacity building/safeguards for students mental health also were noted during Idle’s presentation.
She mentioned the SafeTALK Suicide Alertness for Everyone training, which was provided to Grade 11 Specialist High Skills Major students at Fort High in mid-January.
The training helps people identify the potential signs of suicidal behaviour and teaches them how to help.
There continues to be work to increase mental wellness knowledge and skill across the board, which is not only important for students but also crucial for staff so they are able to support the well-being of all students.
The board’s website also has been revamped to show up-to-date information on mental health resources for children, youth, and families.
Moving forward, the board will continue on with the programs that already have been implemented with respect to mental health and work to identify additional supports as needed.