Mental illness is often a difficult subject to broach, but, says Christine McGregor, the district principal for student support services, it’s an issue the Sooke school district recognizes and is dedicated to dealing with head-on.
Within the district, the system has acknowledged the importance of being reactive to the struggles that students may experience.
“We have school-based student counsellors, social workers, a mental health clinician, and wraparound coordinators in the schools to help deal with kids who are experiencing problems,” McGregor said.
“The district also has three psychologists who work out of the district office but who will make visits to the schools as required. The students can approach their counsellors, or their teachers or any of the staff to raise an issue and access services.”
Doug Agar, the vice-principal of the same department, said the district staff are also trained to react to indicators such as behaviour changes, rapid weight loss, or other changes in a student that may signal that a young person may need help.
“When we see that, our staff are trained to make the referral accordingly,” Agar said.
And in case anyone thinks that this is much ado about nothing, the truth is mental illness is surprisingly common in children and teens.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says about 14 percent of young people in B.C. will experience some form of mental illness – that’s one in seven.
Many mental illnesses–between 50 to 70 percent – show up before the age of 18.
Some of those disorders are often put off as normal teenage growing pains, such as depression or conduct disorders but others can include depression, psychosis, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and even schizophrenia.
The situations can be serious and can affect how well kids do in school and how they form relationships with their peers and adults.
Left untreated, they can be disruptive to normal development and can affect young people for the rest of their lives.
“This is something that we’re dealing with on a nearly daily basis,” said EMCS principal Laura Fulton.
“It’s really hard to say whether this is happening because people feel more comfortable coming forward as there’s been a decrease in the stigma or whether there’s something about today’s world that has led to more young people seeking help.”
She added that EMCS has the advantage of being a relatively small high school in which students and staff become very close and that the tight-knit environment makes it very responsive to any issues as they arise.
But the work to address mental health issues in youth is not simply reactive.
‘We have a wellness clinic here once a week, and we have a district mental health clinician. We also have a very close relationship with the community’s other mental health services and may work with them to address training and other issues as they come up,” said Fulton.
“The truth is that I’ve seen regular success stories and every student that comes forward is helped to one degree or another. There are often no quick fixes but if we can maintain our understanding and willingness to deal with the challenges, we can make sure that students get the help they need.”
She invites any student or parent who is concerned about the issue to speak to a teacher, counsellor, or any staff member to raise their concerns.