As I was editing the articles in this issue, an online fundraising campaign was launched in my community to raise money for a young woman who desperately needed intensive residential treatment for her eating disorder – a program not funded by our provincial health plan. She wrote eloquently about her inability to fight the disease on her own, her fear of dying, and the hopelessness that long wait lists engender in a young person who needs help now.
It’s a heartbreaking story that illustrates perfectly the “fractured system” that Kate Tilleczek and Katherine Lezeu describe in “Journeys in Youth Mental Health” (p. 12) – and yet it also gives me hope. It gives me hope because not so long ago, we would not have even heard this girl’s story, or had a chance to help (when I last checked, $36,000 had been donated). This girl and her family would have suffered in silence: the taboo around disclosing mental illness was too strong.
The uneasy impression I had when my sons were in high school – that more kids than ever before are struggling with mental health problems – is confirmed in this issue. But beyond the worrying statistics, something good is happening. Young adults I know (or know of, through my kids) are talking about their struggles. They are also blogging, advocating, and starting virtual support groups. When yet another gay teen commits suicide, or a mentally ill man “armed” with a screwdriver is shot by police, they are not just saddened – they are outraged. I know not all young people have this level of awareness, but I do believe they are leading a sea change in our public understanding of mental health.
How can we, as educators, help? Our students bring their troubles to school with them, and too often face troubles at school. School leaders tell us they are searching for ways to support the many students struggling with mental health issues, yet it seems an overwhelming challenge. In this issue, we explore how we can “take mental health to school,” and share some initiatives that have been successful at reducing stigma and building knowledge. Schools are not treatment facilities, and they can’t make up for the failings of a fractured system – but they can be an important part of the solution.
P.S. Check out our web exclusive article, “Minding Your Mind,” to learn about a school mental health program developed in partnership with the non-profit youth mental health initiative mindyourmind: www.cea-ace.ca/educationcanada
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Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, March 2014