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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Keeping the Conversation Going

It’s an astounding statistic that one in five children and youth will experience some form of mental health issue. That’s 20 per cent of our young population fighting a battle against their own mind. What’s more distressing is that five out of six of those children and youth will not get the help they need. For many of these children, it’s because they don’t know where to turn to ask for help, or don’t understand how to vocalize the problems they’re having. For many adults it can be a struggle to identify our emotional needs and feelings, so for children and teenagers it, understandably, becomes a nearly impossible task without help.

Thankfully, Dr. Joanna Henderson, Director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at CAMH, Dr. Sandra Lee Mendlowitz, Founding Partner of the Clinical Psychology Centre, Dr. Taylor Armstrong, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the George Hull Centre for Children and Families and Joshua Miller, Youth Engagement Facilitator at CAMH shared their expertise in youth mental health with more than 250 guests at the Kingsway College School annual Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, generously presented by the KCS Parent Network.

Our very special guest panel for the event titled “Mental Wellness: Guiding our Children From Stress to Strength” discussed trends in mental wellness, mental health identifiers, community support resources and strategies and tools for helping to recognize and support our children in times of stress and anxiety.

We are happy to share the video of the full panel presentation from the evening on our YouTube Channel at youtube.com/kcsmatters. Additional resources and speaker presentation slides are also available on our website at kcs.on.ca/speakerseries.

As a nation, Canada is taking great strides towards reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Through initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day the conversation has started, and KCS is proud to continue to lend our voices in support and encouragement. Let’s keep talking.

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.

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Where Was This Thirty Years Ago?

KCS_Where-Was-This-30-Years-AgoLast week, staff and students were asked to fill in a thought bubble about what mental health meant to them. After reading many of them, a flood of emotions and memories came to me as I have a brother who lives with a mental illness. Words like “brave” and “hero” put a smile on my face because that’s how I would describe my brother. These were not words I heard when I was a young girl dealing with this issue in my family.

People did not understand that my brother was sick. Maybe if he were in a wheelchair, people would have been more supportive. It is hard to understand something that you cannot see.

We have come so far with raising awareness and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, but we still need to continue with these conversations, not just on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Here, at KCS, teachers encourage these dialogues with their students to promote good mental health. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, we embrace it.

KCS instills in our students key habits such as Act with empathy, Do what is right, and Make the world better. These children will carry kindness and empathy towards others for the rest of their lives. It makes me hopeful that this next generation of students will do their part to end the stigma towards mental illness. This makes my heart happy and it made my brother’s heart also very happy when I told him about what our students were saying!

Lucy Rizzuto
Senior Kindergarten Teacher