Coming up on January 26th this year is Bell’s Let’s Talk day. As this day approaches each year I wonder how I can personally make a difference in being an advocate for this very serious issue. I’ve always felt a bit frustrated that we rally around this one day and then little is spoken about the topic for the rest of the year. Last year in May, we recognized Mental Health Awareness Week and we started collecting these resources that we can use in school all year. I don’t want us to have to wait for Bell Let’s Talk Day or Mental Health Awareness week to be paying attention to our students’ mental health.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “Healthy emotional and social development in our early years lay the foundation for mental health and resilience throughout the lifespan. Yet, 70 percent of persons living with a mental illness see their symptoms begin before age 18. Mental illness affects some 1.2 million of our children and youth. By age 25, that number rises to 7.5 million (about one in five Canadians).” I don’t know about you but these statistics worry me.
At the OJCS we are looking into different programs and ideas to support Social Emotional Learning for our students in order to proactively pay attention to mental health wellness. We are acutely aware that more and more students are coming to school with presenting anxiety and emotional distress. We are shifting the way we view the Special Education department at the school. In the elementary school (JK-4), we now have the Learning Loft where students can come when/if they are feeling overwhelmed or if they need a body break or mental health break from their classroom. In grade 5 and middle school, we have the Learning Centre for students to access if they need a quiet place to regroup or a trusted adult to speak with. We also created a “safe place” in our office called the “chill zone” where a student at any grade can come and settle their worried brain. All of these spaces are designed so that students know they have a place to go to use strategies to help ease anxiety.
This year we also introduced an Advisory class for our Middle School students. This class is focusing on mental health and student well-being in ensuring that our students have an adult advisor they can connect with. In addition, we are looking into a more formalized SEL (Social and Emotional Learning program) and we are doing our research in exploring what is available and what we would like to use going forward. This is such an important topic that the Ontario Math Curriculum has included Social and Emotional Learning as a new important strand in the learning. Chelsea Cleveland, our OJCS Math Specialist, wrote a 3 part blog post about this topic last year.
All this to say, we are paying close attention to our students’ emotional well-being. We continue to have these important conversations regularly and not just on Bell Let’s Talk day or Mental Health Awareness week. Please take a moment to share how you take care of your own mental health or how you support others. We are each responsible for one another and we will continue to pay close attention to the mental health of all of our staff and students. Please let us know if you need support. We are happy to help.