Mental health is based on a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. When that is compromised, a person may feel emotions such as anger, depression and, as a result, may start acting out. Approximately 10 to 20 per cent of youth are affected by mental illness but out of that percentage, only one in five youth who need mental health services get the help that they need, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association. One consequence of a student’s compromised mental health could be suicide: the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth, aged 10 to 19.
On May 28, 2014, Eastdale was hit with a grueling scene, when the school was closed because a former student crashed her car into the side of the school, killing herself. Local papers said it appeared to be a suicide. The incident took place on school property and as a result, had students talking.
Eastdale Collegiate staff is committed to making sure that all students get the help they need, whether they are in a crisis situation or not. This is because when students are feeling anxious or depressed, maybe about a test, they may not know who to talk to but the school does have guidance counsellors and social service workers on hand throughout the school year. If the student is in a crisis situation then they are referred to the Lakeridge Health Emergency Centre.
If not in crisis, a student may be referred to Catholic Family Services, located in downtown Oshawa. The student does not have to be Catholic to access the services, according to Nicole Watt, a guidance counselor, teacher and coach at Eastdale. The services offer a broad range of counseling and have a walk-in every Thursday.
The school also looks at the last time the student has seen a family doctor. This is to make sure there are no underlying physical issues, or substance abuse issues. If substances are an issue then the student may get referred to Pinewood Services, which is a rehab center.
Nicole Watt not only coaches students on their mental well-being as a guidance counsellor but she also coaches students in field hockey. Watt notes that anxiety and depression are crucial mental health issues to look for around this time and near the end of January, with exams and the end of the semester.
“Anxiety and depression are kind of at the forefront of the issues here. We have anxiety pretty much all year around but it definitely peaks towards the end of the semester.”
Watt said there may be underlying issues with a student but anxiety and depression are at the core of it. She describes it as an iceberg.
“We have students that exhibit a broad range of behaviours and it looks like something else. It’s like an iceberg, underneath it’s a big thing related to anxiety.”
As the principal at Eastdale, William Levine knows being committed to the students and making sure they have a solid sense of self is important. Levine ensures the students at his school are in a safe environment and are both mentally and physically healthy.
One thing that Levine tries to make clear to the students is he wants to be involved in school events. He wants students to know he is approachable because then students will know if they need somebody to talk to, they also have the option to talk to the principal.
“As much as I get trapped at my desk, I try to be visible in the building. I’m out there and students see me around the building. It makes me that much more approachable,” said Levine.
He also has what he calls an open door policy. During grade assemblies at the beginning of the school year, where Levine and other vice principals talk to the students, Levine makes sure students know about the policy that he has.
“I have an open door policy. What it means for a student is that they don’t get hassled to get to me,” said Levine. “So there is nobody controlling access to the principal. All the student has to say is ‘I’d like to see the principal,’ and the secretary knows, the rest of the staff knows.”
Levine said that his open door policy allows students to be able to talk to the principal about any issues that he/she may be having. Levine explained the open door policy by saying that if he was talking to the Prime Minister of Canada and a student came to see him, he would excuse himself from the Prime Minister because his students come first.
On top of his open door policy and being seen around the school, Levine also makes sure that he is seen at different events held at the school. He also likes to do regular classroom visits. This is so he is involved in the school and the students know he cares about what is going on..
“I try to make the point of linking myself to different events that go around in the school and again, so that way I am there. I might go in and do a guest visit in the classroom,” said Levine. “There could be a presentation going on in the school, so I’m there. It might be that I’m at the front of the room, and I’m introducing that presentation. So it gives them a sense that they know that I care about what’s going on.” If they get the sense he cares, then it will be easier for students to talk to him about issues they are having.
In any high school, there are many mental health issues surrounding the school and the students. Mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, can lead to other issues. Can lead to self-harm and suicide. Like Levine and the numerous other staff at Eastdale, Nicole Watt, field hockey coach, guidance counsellor and physical education teacher, is committed everyday to ensuring the students at Eastdale stay healthy.
While there have been many strides in helping the issue of mental health, Watt said that in the future, she hopes to see more resources and support in the community. Sometimes when students are sent to Oshawa’s community resources they have to wait a long time before they can see anyone.
When a student’s mental health has been compromised going to community resources, like Lakeridge, would be beneficial for the students. However, students having a healthy home environment with parents staying involved in their children’s lives, would benefit student’s wellbeing greatly.
If parents become more involved than they are with their kids then students may be able to relieve their anxiety. Canada’s Comprehensive School Health framework suggest that when a student is emotionally and physically healthy they are much more likely to achieve their academic success. A school setting is also able to help students’ well-being in a positive manner. This is because students interact with their peers at school the most and if the setting at school is negative, then a student’s well-being could become compromised. A negative setting includes lots of bullying, or hazing.
Watt also hopes that students are able to build resiliency and emotional intelligence. This is because once students understand what their feelings are and that it is okay to feel negative things, like sadness, disappointment or frustration, then the students are able to recover from the issues that they may have.
“We can repair many things but with regard to the mind and our soul we are way behind on that kind of stuff,” said Watt.
The crash on May 28, 2015, at was a tragic reminder that a student’s mental health may be compromised. Whether you are struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or anything else that is affecting your well-being just know that you are not alone. There are people who can and will help you.