Archive for March, 2013

Mental Health in Elementary Schools

I don’t normally cover anything school related here at the Fort McMurray Today, but thanks to a co-worker’s illness, had an opportunity to do just that a couple of weeks ago. Frankly, I might have passed on it if it was some fuzzy-wuzzy fundraiser story — not that I’m Satan and don’t support fundraisers, they’re just all the exact same to cover and if you’ve done one, you’ve done ’em all — but it happened to be about something that I was genuinely interested in learning more about.

Maybe I’m influenced by my own experiences through elementary, middle and high school, but I think almost all kids experience some varying degree of depression or anxiety at some point — or multiple points — between kindergarten and Grade 12. Of course, looking back now and weighing our current problems against being called into the principal’s office for throwing a snowball, we realize things weren’t so bad back then. But at the time, you felt like Tupac Shakur; “It’s just me against the world, baby.”

I had the opportunity to visit one of multiple schools in the Fort McMurray area that were implementing this FRIENDS Program, in order to help prevent depression and anxiety, or help kids deal with it better if they’re already going through it.

I had nothing like this when I was a kid.

I had a school counsellor who, as far as I know, was just “there if you needed her.” I can honestly say that I really have no idea what it was that she did at my elementary school, because I think the only time I ever saw her doing anything at all was when she was brought in for a brief Sex Ed lesson, and that was probably in the 6th Grade, I can’t really remember.

But you would think she would lend a hand or sit down to chat with a kid when he or she was being particularly troublesome, to try and find out what was going on. And believe me, I was “particularly troublesome,” and if you don’t believe me, I’ll be glad to provide some references.

There’s no doubt that I ultimately reached a point where I was depressed, and according to my mom, it was painfully obvious. But I still never saw the school counsellor; I don’t think it was even suggested to me that perhaps I should. I find myself wondering now what the difference was back then as opposed to now, when we have entire programs implemented in schools to help kids deal with depression and anxiety. Was it a more taboo subject back then? Was there not enough awareness to understand that, although their problems are comparatively more insignificant, kids can still be legitimately depressed? Maybe it was just the staff at my elementary school not doing their jobs.

During my interview with the psychologist I was shocked to hear her say that more kids now are coming forward and identifying themselves as having some sort of mental health issue. Maybe it’s kids that are different today.

I could speculate all day long about why mental health seems to be taken a lot more seriously today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but more than anything I was just pleased to learn that something like the FRIENDS Program exists and is making a difference in the lives of the kids who need it.

Anyone who wants to weigh in on how mental health issues were handled in their schools, feel free to leave a comment, I’d be interested to hear.