Mental health is one of the most important issues affecting schools, says one Grade 10 student.
Timothy Lu, who attends Old Scona Academic High School in Edmonton, was one of the 120-plus youth attendees of the first-ever HEADSTRONG Provincial Youth Health Summit in Red Deer this week.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Lu.
“You see people talking about how we have to provide wheelchair ramps or rails for blind people, and we do. But the issue is that we don’t see the same attention to people with mental health issues. We don’t see people saying we should have a room where people can destress in schools.”
Lu said he, along other students who attended the summit, hope to start a HEADSTRONG group at his school.
“Talking about mental health saves lives and there’s nothing more important than that. The time is now to start taking initiative to get people to start talking about mental health,” he said.
The summit, presented by the Alberta Schools Boards Association and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, ran at the Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre Monday and Tuesday.
Nathan Ip, provincial co-ordinator of HEADSTRONG with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said the main goal of the event was to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
“The number one barrier to people seeking support for mental health is the stigma. Over 40 per cent of parents say they would not tell their doctors or even a close family member if their child had mental health struggles,” said Ip.
“The vast majority of adults who currently have a diagnosed mental illness or have mental health struggles say their symptoms began in adolescence. It’s incredibly important for us to have these conversations with young people and involve them so they can advocate for their own mental health and help their peers become mental health champions.”
Lorrie Jess, Alberta School Boards Association presidents, said she hopes there will be more provincial summits in the future.
“All school boards speak about student mental health – the anxiety, the depression. Students are why we exist so we need to focus more on mental health. This was a great start,” said Jess.
Jess said the idea of HEADSTRONG is for the students to take what they’ve learned back to their schools and share it with fellow students.