In any given calendar year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience mental health problems or illness. Regardless of age, education, income or culture, these issues can affect anyone at any time.
That’s a fact not lost on school boards who care about the mental health and wellbeing of students, especially during potential periods of stress brought on by the realities of COVID-19 and remote learning requirements. Some boards, like the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB), are taking proactive steps to address student needs in unique ways. One example has been the creation of school-specific mental health resource booklets targeting high-school age students developed in collaboration with members of the WCDSB student senate committee.
“When talking about student mental health and well-being, we need to listen to the students themselves, to know what they want and what works for them,” said Dr. Brenda Kenyon, mental health lead with WCDSB. “There is a lot of information available online, which is where youth often look first. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of information online that’s not really accurate, and sometimes not even safe. So we need to make sure students have information that is accurate, helpful, and works for them, not just what we think they need.”
Kenyon says she was approached for input into the project by members of the WCDSB Student senate, which includes members from each of Guelph’s Catholic high schools. What impressed her most was how knowledgeable the Student Senate members were about student mental health, and the passion they had creating something that was going to be used by their peers at their own and possibly other area schools.
“The idea of a brochure came from a provincial youth engagement panel led by School Mental Health Ontario, last summer. They suggested a booklet designed by youth for youth because only students can tell us what works for students”, said Kenyon. “Our Student Senate took it on as a local project and did a great job: They customized the content to include school-specific information about who to reach out to for help, and where students can access mental health services in the Guelph community It even has information about how to tell if a friend might be struggling with mental health issues, and tips for how to start that conversation. And it folds up into a small square that be tucked into a pocket or the back of a cell phone.”
Sydny Hamilton, a Grade 12 student representing St. John Bosco Catholic School on the Student Senate, said it was important to senate members to ensure the booklet was developed with input from students from all schools.
“We wanted feedback to make it personal to all schools,” she said. “We’re all very different school-wise when it comes to the culture. It was hard to personalize it to individual schools while making it universal as well. It was important that we include a lot of strategies on dealing with stress because that’s something I know leads to a lot of other mental health issues.”
Hamilton said she drew on her own experiences dealing with mental health challenges to provide input on the booklet, which she sees as a vital resource to students who may be struggling and unsure of how to reach out for help.
“Mental health affects everything. I know I was a great student academically, but my mental health really put barriers in my way. It determines how you handle everything, your everyday activity, your goals if you even have any. Your mental health really determines your success and quality of life. That’s the point of this, to get information to kids who don’t know that possibly could be why they’re not doing well in school. They’re distracted because of their mental health, so it’s important to get that information out and help provide them with a solution.”
The guide was developed to be ready for distribution in time for Mental Health Week. With COVID19 remote learning protocols in place, the Student Senate is working with the WCDSB to ensure the booklet is available for digital download.