Jon ThompsonKenora Daily Miner And News
Date Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2012
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Two years into its plan to network with community agencies to address mental health in schools, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is ready for someone to take charge.
Its new mental health leader, Lisa Doerksen, spoke to the board last week, describing what will be a varied approach to learning, while taking all levels of distress and illness into consideration.
“Mental health exists along a continuum,” she explained. “When we’re talking about mental health in students, we refer to those kids who are having emotional distress related to an event that has happened in their family. Perhaps (it’s) a divorce, a loss, something temporary in their world that has upset them. Along that continuum, we also have those kids that meet the criteria of having a very serious mental illness and require a high level of support. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”
Her research shows awareness of the mental health challenges the Ontario school system is facing is acute. She contended one in five children in the province have either mental health issues or emotional disorders. One in two over 15 years of age have anxiety issues and half of those are shy to seek help to alleviate their distress.
In Ontario school boards surveyed in 2009, 96 per cent of administrators felt “very” or “extremely” concerned about the impact of student behaviour and mental health issues while all 31 boards felt ill prepared to manage the severity of mental health difficulties in their schools, particularly in the classrooms.
In response, Doerksen reported ministries are beginning to collaborate under a provincial mental health strategy. Combining forces with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Children and Youth will take the lead on integrating schools with community mental health agencies and after two years, leadership will hand off the Ministry of Health.
“Schools can’t do it all but we have a role in promoting mental health and well being, offering prevention services and identifying students and the benefits of support,” she said. “Schools offer the greatest place to do that. You have a captive audience for six hours a day to raise awareness and reduce the stigma.”
To that end, she will help to implement the mental health strategy, designing literacy resources for school staff while implementing mental health promotion and prevention programming.
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)