Problems in mental health are certainly widely discussed these days, but is enough action happening to address the issue in our school systems?
Cindy Andrew, chair of the Healthy Schools Committee of the Sooke Parents’ Education Advisory Council (SPEAC), says there are opportunities for the public to engage in that discussion.
“When we think about mental health,” Andrew says, “rather than (only) having a conversation around mental illness, it’s really about helping bring the conversation upstream as well, to say, ‘what can we be doing to help promote resiliency in our kids? How can we increase their ability to ride the ups and downs of life and manage their emotions and all the stuff coming at them as part and parcel of good mental health?’ We know if you can lay a good foundation, you quite likely will reduce the number of mental illnesses we’re seeing.”
The first of these mental health forums took place May 7 at Spencer Middle School on Goldstream Avenue in Langford.
Mental health, Andrew says, is more about emotional well-being than about illness. It’s about the friendly bus driver who picks the kids up at the curb and the crossing guard who laughs and jokes with them as the cross to the school. It’s about kids having positive, healthy relationships with the adults in their lives – and school is a big part of their lives.
The forum was led by a panel of participants, from councillors to teachers to occupational therapists and mental health clinicians, but was more of an open-discussion format than a lecture.
“The meeting focused specifically on parents or other members of a child’s community – grandparents, aunts, uncles or other caregivers – anybody who cares about kids, as a way to support them and give them some fundamentals but also to learn a little bit about the various resources that are available within their community to help support them.”
There is also a Capital-Region-wide meeting being held on May 27, which will bring together members of all four school districts in the region – Gulf Islands, Victoria, Saanich and Sooke – where they will join up with members of Island Health, district PAC volunteers and other community partners and look at addressing the problem systemically, Andrew says.
“The school as a setting for health promotion, including mental health promotion, makes good sense,” Andrew says. “So what’s required? Well, it’s not just the school’s problem, it’s that whole ‘takes a village to raise a child,’ cliché. A good place to start is to bring people together who can make a difference.”
Andrew thinks schools have long felt under pressure to address social ills, “and they’re at a point where they’re saying, ‘we can’t do it alone.’ I’m not for a single second suggesting that schools do it all, but that’s a place where kids gather for long periods in their lives and there’s an opportunity there. Next to family attachment, school connectedness is the most significant protective factor in a child’s life. So, how do we do that?”
That’s the point of the regional meeting on May 27. To find ways to systemically address mental health in our region’s schools without placing the burden of that on the schools themselves.