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OPINION: Students respond to mental health survey

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Lori Brush

At first read, the original article titled, ‘Teens respond to survey on depression, suicidal thoughts’, I was deeply concerned with the message that was being conveyed about today’s youth as being disconnected, and in distress on a daily basis.  This is simply not the case.

In November of 2013, the Lambton Kent District School Board conducted a survey, titled, ‘SpeakUp’, for Grades 7-12 students, which asked questions about day-to-day activities and experiences, family life, experiences at school, safety and bullying, help-seeking and support behaviour, substance use, depression and anxiety, and suggestions from students on how schools can best support students today. There were no questions about suicidal thinking or behaviour, because ethically, we were not in a position to ask such questions given the anonymity of students who participated in the survey.

Overall, there were many correlations and findings in the some 85 questions posed to students in the survey. Today’s youth are definitely aware of the reality and impact of stigma on help-seeking behaviour, and repeatedly impressed upon the researchers the need for more open dialogue about mental health in general as an important first step in addressing the shame and embarrassment associated with this topic. Our future generation is overall, reasonably happy, hopeful about the future and confident in themselves. That being said, there is a definite concern about the level of anxiety and stress related to pressure to do well at school and the impact of this on their future, in terms of school and employment opportunities.

In what many have referred to as a ‘hyper stressed’ world, our schools are working hard to equip students with the supports, and coping/stress adaptation skills necessary to thrive in today’s world. We currently have ten Psychoeducational Clinicians; two Student Support Officers; and three Mental Health & Addictions Nurses in our schools whose main role is to provide mental health supports to students. These are just a few examples of the types of mental health support available to students in the school system.

The LKDSB is currently in the midst of approving a Suicide Prevention, Risk Management and Postvention Protocol. This is a document that included input from multiple stakeholders with a focus on evidenced based research and best practices. The main goal of the protocol is to ensure consistency in response to any and all forms of suicidal behaviour, in addition to providing a foundation of knowledge for staff about ways to support students and promote help-seeking behaviour. The protocol’s anticipated date of release is Spring 2015.

Our community and our schools are working every day to respond to the needs that society presents. This response is evolutionary and requires us all to continue to learn, grow and adapt our practices as we learn better ways to support the wellbeing of our most precious resource- our children and youth.

Lori Brush is the Mental Health Lead at the Lambton Kent District School Board

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