As a mental health and anti-stigma activist, I am often asked, “What can be done about the growing mental health crisis?”
People see tragedies like the deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and they wonder how people who seemingly have it all can fall so far. The fact is mental health and addictions issues do not discriminate. They do not care how much someone has, or how successful someone is; they affect all of us equally. Which is why it is more important now than ever that we see the need to start addressing mental health and addictions issues at the primary and secondary school level.
Many mental health issues have their grounding in the experiences of grief and loss as a young child or teenager. What is needed is to educate children; as well as teachers, support staff and parents; in healthy methods of coping with grief and loss. Not only that, our schools need to adopt a framework to start healthy discussions about mental health issues.
A 2010 report from the BC Mental Health and Addiction Services outlined five ways we can start to positively affect the mental health outcomes of our youth, primarily through the adoption of a mental health literacy program. This program would increase public awareness about mental health and substance use issues, increase recognition and improve early identification of symptoms, reduce the stigma of mental illness, increase help-seeking behaviours and ensure access is available at an early stage of illness where our children spend the bulk of their daytime hours; at school.
Through the creation of a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, the provincial government has set an important flag down. Now it is time for our schools and school boards to join them in ensuring our children are supported as they grow, and to help them learn healthy ways of coping with some of extreme life’s pressures. Only when we establish a framework for healthy engagement and conversations will we start to see progress with youth and young adult mental health.