World Mental Health Day Every Day

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world.” – World Health Organization

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate, increase awareness, and mobilize efforts to promote better mental health around the globe. This year, the focus for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, a topic that is obviously near and dear to the hearts of everyone at KCS.

For far too long, mental health was seen something that mainly affected adults. It just wasn’t on the radar when it came to young kids. But one only has to glance at the statistics and facts provided by organizations such as CAMH to see that there is a clear need for families and schools to pay close attention to the mental health of our young people. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.

Faced with numbers like that, it’s clear that we must continue to make mental health awareness a core component of our overall wellness strategies at KCS. Events like World Mental Health Day and the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign certainly help to bring greater awareness and understanding that helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness. But it can’t stop at awareness. Any effective strategy must also include a proactive approach to both prevention and recovery.

We know that when children are given the skills that they need to foster resiliency and accept challenges as an obstacle they are able to work at to overcome, they are better equipped to cope with adversity and the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Because early intervention is key, learning these skills can and must begin at a very young age. When children learn and recognize that they do have the skills and the strength to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after something does not go as planned, they are building up that resiliency.

At KCS we recognize this and continue to make mental health a fundamental priority. Beginning right from PK, our students are encouraged to talk about and recognize their feelings. Social-emotional growth and development is an intentional component of our curriculum, and the adults in the building use those “teachable moments” to role model and discuss dealing with disappointment and asking for help.  Our faculty and staff are certified in Mental Health First Aid, allowing us to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental distress, and assist our students in getting the help they need.

We also recognize that we need to help our entire school community better understand the importance of mental health and wellness.  Through our Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, we have shared information about brain development, mental health, and our children, volunteerism and contributing to the community, moving from stress to strength, developing resiliency, internet, and online safety, and we will continue in January 2019 when Greg Wells – author of The Ripple Effect – comes to speak with us about our overall well-being.  The more we talk about mental health, the better we understand its importance – not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

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Let’s Talk About Mental Health

It seems a day doesn’t go by that we aren’t reading or hearing about something related to mental health. Although what we read or hear is more often about insufficient services or concerning statistics, especially among youth, at least we are beginning the conversation! The more we talk about, educate, and promote an understanding around mental health, the more it will discourage people from seeing themselves or others struggling with a mental health issue as fundamentally different from anyone else.

As the tagline for this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day says, “Mental Health Affects Us All.” Anyone can be affected by mental health concerns, at any age. A mental health problem occurs when thoughts or feelings continue for a long time, become overwhelming, and make it difficult to carry on with typical daily activities. Two people who are experiencing the same event, social circumstance, challenge or success in life will not react and respond in the same way. How they react and respond is influenced by many factors (biology, life events and experiences, personality, social circumstances, age, etc.), and even two siblings can have different reactions. However, we do know that everyone does better when they are surrounded by a community of people who are kind, compassionate, caring, and understanding. Being open in our thinking, willing to listen without judgement, and accurate in our understanding of what constitutes a mental health issue, allows us to help get or give the support needed.

Stress is a natural and healthy part of life. It keeps us safe, can help us concentrate, focus, get motivated, and even exhilarate us. However, if not kept in check, it can interfere with our ability to carry on with our daily activities, feel crippling, and even lead to further mental health issues. Our mental health is influenced by how we think and feel about life in general, how we cope with everyday stressors, how we feel about ourselves, how we deal with negative things that happen in our lives, and how we manage our emotions. If we have never had to deal with failure or mistakes, or if we are under the belief that if we aren’t happy or stress-free something must be “wrong” with us, when life throws us one of its inevitable curve balls, no matter how big or small, it could have a very negative impact on our mental health. Life is full of both positive and negative events, steps forward and setbacks, and having the strategies and tools to cope will influence how we react and respond, and how that affects our mental health.

When we talk openly, accurately, and without judgement about mental health and mental illness, we are promoting mental wellness and helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. By providing opportunities for failure and mistakes, we are teaching our children an important skill and helping to build resiliency. Learning to identify and manage emotions helps us to recognize in ourselves and others when a reaction does not seem to fit the situation. This understanding is something we strive to instill in our students and staff every day at KCS because we know that early diagnosis and intervention are key to helping when a mental health issue arises. Resiliency, positive thinking, self-efficacy, and recognizing and naming emotions won’t stop a mental health problem from occurring, but it will influence how we react and equip us to respond. That can make all the difference.

On Tuesday, January 30, we will be hosting our Encouraging Dialogue speaker series “Mental Wellness: Guiding our Children from Stress to Strength” in order to continue to better inform and educate our community about mental health. As is evinced by our sold-out evening, this is an important topic to discuss, better understand, and keep talking about.

Mental Health

What does Mental Health mean to you? Let’s talk about it!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27, is Bell Let’s Talk Day.  This is a day where Canadians are encouraged to talk, text, and tweet in order to help encourage conversation around mental health, increase awareness, reduce the stigma, and raise funds to support mental health initiatives across the country (to learn more, go to http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ ).

Here at KCS, we have made it a priority to address the importance of mental health and wellness for our students and our staff.  We strive to promote overall wellness through our programs, curriculum and extra-curricular offerings, and we’re determined to keep the conversation going every day. We encourage students to talk to their teachers, parents, or other adults in their lives when they are feeling as if something may not be quite right.  We work to assure all of our students that if they choose to talk to someone here at KCS, they know the conversation will happen without judgement or the need to feel any shame for how they are feeling.  And in doing so, we hope that this helps to reduce some of the stigma that exists around mental health.

Over the past couple of weeks, in grades 1 – 8 either your child’s health teacher or I have taken some time to talk about mental health.  The conversations and lessons have been tailored to be age- and developmentally appropriate, and aligned with the Ministry of Education Health curriculum.  As part of the lessons, and in following one of the Bell Let’s Talk initiatives of answering the question: “What Does Mental Health Mean to You?”, the students were asked to fill in a thought bubble to share their ideas around mental health.  These are now displayed in our front lobby and throughout the school.  Our youngest students framed their answers by telling what they do when they are worried about something; our grade 4s answered the question “What Makes me Happy?”; and our grade 5 to 8 students and many faculty explained what mental health means to them.

The answers are moving, insightful, and show that there is a growing understanding of what mental health and wellness means at KCS.  These answers weren’t prompted; they came from the heart of everyone who chose to share their ideas.  Read them, and be inspired to do your part to make sure this is a conversation that will continue each and every day. It is just that important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Bell Let’s Talk Day and Beyond

Mental HealthThe statistics tell us that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, yet 2 out of 3 of those individuals will never seek help, choosing instead to suffer in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. That stigma stops people from getting the help that they need and can make those individuals feel even more isolated.  But we can change that, and we’re encouraging our students to do so.

On Wednesday, January 28, our grade 7 and 8 students will join thousands of other students from grades 7 through 12 from across Canada as they participate in the Bell Let’s Talk Day webcast. This webcast will feature Clara Hughes, Michael Landsberg and other guests who will share their personal stories and help encourage those watching to work to end the stigma using Bell’s Let’s Talk 5 simple steps:

  1. Language Matters
  2. Educate Yourself
  3. Be Kind
  4. Listen and Ask
  5. Talk About It

Although Bell Let’s Talk Day takes place on Wednesday, January 28th, talking about mental health issues is not just a one day event.  We encourage our students to have these conversations every day and we actively work to help them better understand what overall student wellness includes.  If they can recognize when something just does not feel right, and they know that they will be listened to without shame or fear, then we’re doing our part to help reduce the stigma and encourage dialogue around such an important topic.  We also know that prevention and early intervention are key for those experiencing a mental health issue.  This was a reason why our school trained our faculty and staff in Mental Health First Aid during 2014.  It is why we strive to promote overall student wellness through our programs, curriculum, and extra-curricular offerings.  It is a reason why our Parent Network began the #KCS_TTM (Talk That Matters) Speaker Series for students this year.  And finally, it is because knowing each and every one of the students at the school is important, not just for academic planning, but also to ensure that we can see when that conversation needs to happen as early intervention in the area of mental health is so important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Mental Health at KCS

Mental HealthAccording to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in Canada, one person in three will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime and 70% of those mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence. However, it also notes that mental health crises can be avoided with early intervention and support.  At KCS, we are working hard to help provide some of that support.

When your children return to school on September 3rd all of our teaching staff and many of the non-teaching staff will have been certified in Mental Health First Aid. The rest will become certified as the year progresses.  Just as physical first aid does not make one a health care professional, mental health first aid does not turn the faculty and staff into mental health professionals; however, what it does do is allow us to recognize signs and symptoms of a wide range of mental health concerns so we are better equipped to have a conversation with you about what we are seeing, as well as what some of the possible next steps may be.  But this isn’t all we are doing.

We have been having the conversations about mental health for quite some time – our Encouraging Dialogue Speakers Series over the past three years have focused on mental health concerns in order to better educate our wider school community.  Our Habits of Mind, Body, and Action and the three school rules (Respect, Manners and Try Your Best) help to provide balance, enable resilience, and create a common language that we can use to talk about what our students are experiencing and what they can do to help themselves and each other. Teachers attend weekly divisional meetings where, among many other topics, we discuss concerns that we may have and work together to best help the student(s) in need.  Teachers attend workshops, conferences, take courses, participate in personal learning and reading to strengthen their understanding and awareness, and better their strategies for doing what is best for our students.  Our small class sizes allow us to truly get to know each child, allowing us to recognize when something just doesn’t seem right.  Class meetings are held where students can talk about what is going well, and what concerns they may have.  During Health class and other instructional time, teachers use the Steps to Respect or Second Steps program, along with other resources, to help provide their students with skills in areas such as stress reduction, dealing with disappointment, sharing successes, navigating friendships and positive relationships, dealing with bullying, and negotiation and compromise.

In September of 2013, a new position was established at KCS, Director of Student Life, so that there would be a designated person, a trained counsellor, to address the needs of the students and provide them support and guidance.

You may recall Andrea Fanjoy’s blog about our Student Voice this past spring.  We asked the students to let us know how they perceived the health and wellness at KCS and what we could do to make it better.  We listened, and we have put some of those ideas into action – being physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually healthy makes us mentally healthy as well.

But most importantly, what we are doing about mental health at KCS is talking about it and working to end the stigma.  As Clara Hughes said when promoting Clara’s Big Ride “Let’s turn mental illness into mental wellness”. By having the conversation we are helping to do just that.

Over the pasts few years, schools and businesses across the country have begun to make positive steps towards this goal.  KCS belongs to the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS).  Each year, CAIS holds a conference for Heads and Chairs in October.  One of the speakers at this year’s conference is Eric Windeler, from The Jack Project, who will speaking on the topic of mental health, and explaining why it should be a school’s top priority.

If you have any questions on this topic, please come in and speak to us.  For further information and additional reading please see the following websites.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life