Division News Article

Focus on student mental health

March 8th, 2018

Every person’s brain is susceptible to varying levels of health. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of mental health so we can provide the best support possible for students. Our Coordinator of School Counseling Colleen Teske created a 90-minute Mental Health Literacy session that was shared with all school staff at the March 5 Professional Development day. The session contains information from the Mental Health Literacy Project created by Alberta Health Services.

Language of mental health
We must use consistent language in our schools to ensure we can help provide the right supports for students. Clarity is essential to how we address mental health.

“This training is incredibly valuable and will help us all get on the same page. It highlights the significance of communication within a building. We need to know more about how we can help students.”
Danica Raymond, Barrhead Composite High School

Removing mental health stigmas
Language is also extremely important in changing the stigma around mental health. Clinical diagnosis is very different from people using the words incorrectly. For example, a student might tell us they are depressed, however depression can only be diagnosed by a professional with specific credentials. It’s really important that the students, school and the entire school community use the correct language. We will also shift to first person language — instead of saying “the student is depressed”, we would say “the student who is dealing with depression.”

“The more conversation we can have on the topic of mental health, the better.  It is a topic that requires a great deal of understanding and empathy in order to break down dominant social stigmas and come nearer to a place where staff and student’s mental health is treated with the same level of care as their physical health.”
Chris Lantz, Eleanor Hall School Program Assistant

Understanding different levels of mental health
We’ll continue to work to help staff and students understand the different levels of mental health:

  • Mental disorder / illness
  • Mental health problem
  • Mental distress
  • No distress and no problem or illness

Staff learned that students can experience one or more levels at the same time. Mental distress is necessary and actually healthy. In fact, students need to experience mental distress in order to build resiliency and the confidence to be problem solvers.

How staff can support students
Teachers and program assistants can support students who experience mental distress by teaching them how to use healthy coping strategies now, so they can use them as needed throughout their lives. It’s important that teachers and program assistants understand their role is NOT to diagnose, but to observe and report.  

“The Mental Health Literacy work is so important because we have to take care of students as people first. And the more we come to know about mental health, the more important having access to that knowledge is in order to best support our students. After that person is taken care of and feels valued, all the other stuff like academics and skill development can happen. As educators and support staff in schools we spend a lot of time with these kids, and we get to know them really well. So it makes sense that we then also have the tools to support them when needed.”
Amber McGinn, Barrhead Composite High School Teacher

The better job we do educating staff about mental health, the better equipped we will be to recognize, communicate and provide support for students, or when necessary help students access the supports they need. Mental Health Literacy is an important element of our education plan priority to support Success for All Students.