Helping Students Learn Mental Wellness

Posted On Thursday November 12, 2020

Grade 7 teachers across the district are being trained to facilitate mental health literacy lessons in their classrooms that aim to help develop knowledge and health improve strategies so that students are better able to cope with life stresses and build resilience.  

In a presentation to the Board of Education at its regular meeting Nov. 9, trustees heard about three evidence-based, age-appropriate mental wellness resources that equip teachers with a robust curriculum learning about basic brain functions determining both mental health and mental illness.  

The presenters were Vessy Mochikas, Director of Instruction, Elementary Education and Learning Services, District Principal Grant Reilly, Sherry Stade, Health Promoting Schools Coordinator, and two Grade 7 teachers. The District program is called Stop Wondering Start Knowing.

Stade said the program is aimed at students in Grade 7 because the age of onset of major mental health issues ranges between the ages of 12 and 25.

“This age range is the window of onset for 70 per cent of all mental health disorders including anxiety, anorexia, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsiveness and substance abuse,” said Stade. “Statistics show that one in five people may have a mental health illness or disorder, and that also means that four out of five of us may be living with someone with a mental health problem.

“We also encourage teachers to create community agreements. What we mean by this is before you start any kind of facilitation, it is important to create guidelines for a safe classroom where respectful dialogue can occur.”

Both teachers said they were initially nervous about the program, and both said the positive outcomes after delivering the program make it valuable.

“At one point, you could hear a pin drop and bounce on the floor,” said Jessee Brake, Grade 7 teacher from Chase Secondary. “That’s how much they wanted to hear this information. Many students stayed behind to talk and ask questions.”

Beth Morgan, Grade 7 teacher at Beattie Elementary, said she first delivered this program three years ago to the most challenging class in her career.

“I wondered whether this might trigger additional anxiety with the students,” said Morgan. “But with some help from Sherry Stade, who delivered the first session, the program was actually very well received.”

Morgan has continued to teach the program every year.

“This year I decided to deliver it right away. I am really happy that I did that because it creates a real sense of community in the classroom, and a safe place for kids to talk,” said Morgan. ““Adolescence is hard for kids, and with COVID, it is especially hard. This program is very helpful because even if students are not struggling, it helps them to learn the language so they can talk about it with their family and friends.”

One great takeaway for Morgan is that kids learn there are steps they can take to feel better. A long list of things that they can do to feel better, is always at the front of her class for easy reference.

Another takeaway is that there is somewhere they can go to ask for help. A helpline phone number is also always at the front of the class, which many students now carry in their own phones.

“This gives kids a better understanding of mental health challenges, signs and symptoms, and it reduces stigma,” said Vessy Mochikas, Director of Instruction, Elementary Education and Learning Services. “In no way does the program have teachers act as school counselors or school and family consultants or district counselors. Teachers teach those skills to students. We have at the elementary level school and family consultants available to connect students who need counseling as well as qualified counselors at the secondary level who would work with students and get them services that were needed, should issues present for students.”

Several Board trustees noted their appreciation of the work being done, especially in teaching students the difference between feeling anxious and depressed, and the need to seek help for deeper problems.

“I love that Mental Health Literacy is something that is being focused on,” said Trustee Heather Grieve. “Anxiety is part of being a human being, and there is a difference between feeling these emotions and with being diagnosed with a disorder.”

“I think it is important for our parents and our general public to know that within our school system we are talking about the literacy of our feelings and how that does impact our wellness,” said Vice-Chair Meghan Wade. “We are not moving into the area of any form of any diagnosis of mental health issues but really giving our children the words to speak about what is going on for them.”

“I know that in our First Nations community sometimes that conversation is hard for families to have that conversation, because some parents are just not used to that language,” said Trustee Diane Jules. “At least the awareness is there and students realize it is nothing to be hidden in a closet. It is okay to talk about it to your friends and your teachers and your parents and to find resolution rather than hanging on to those problems.”



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