Bill HenryOwen Sound Sun Times
Date Published: Monday, April 16, 2012
View printable version
Students with anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles are more likely now to reach out for help, and their peers are better able to support them as a result of Disable the Label, some said in Chesley recently.
The mental health awareness campaign's message at Chesley District High School has been even more powerful, students said, because it was spearheaded by one of their own.
Grade 12 student Kathryn Loucks launched the campaign, raised $11,000 through government grants and donations and planned workshops and speakers at the school Friday, among other initiatives this school year.
Loucks also inspired students to express their thoughts about mental health and suicide awareness through videos, songs, writing and visual arts for a related Arrange the Change suicide prevention arts competition, with $900 in prizes.
Sarah Dufton, whose dramatic video won the first prize iPad, said the project was important to her. The Grade 12 student has battled anxiety and depression since Grade 7 and lost much of last semester to that depression.
She said the Disable the Label campaign has helped her and so has Loucks.
"She's definitely someone I talk to and this is something I'm certainly interested in," Dufton said. "Kathryn has really encouraged people to open up with problems and not keep everything bottled up inside."
Grade 12 student Katelyn Saunders said the campaign has raised awareness throughout the school that there's no shame in asking for help.
"If I was going through depression, I'd feel a lot more confident in coming out. Before, I'd be very secretive about it," Saunders said after Friday's event at the school.
Because students understand Loucks initiated the project partly as a result of her own experiences with depression, there's strong student support and interest, she said.
"You always see at schools where they get public speakers to come in the gym, the same old. They tell you the same thing every time," Saunders said. "But this is kind of different. It's one of us. She's our friend and having her come out and say she had depression It seems a lot more real now."
Loucks said she was grateful for the response to her work at the school, and agreed that hearing the message from a peer has meant more for many students.
"It's also helped me to connect with students who have been through similar experiences," she said.
"I think when you have someone that's a similar age to the peers you trying to reach, then you can make the most difference. When they see a teacher, they think you're talking at them.
Depression struck Loucks in 2010. She has become a fierce advocate for student mental health at her school and beyond.
"The point of today is to highlight the resources that are available in the area and to combat the stigma associated with mental illness, as it can be more harmful than the illness itself," Loucks told Chesley students during an assembly there Friday.
Her campaign at the school began in October, with an awareness week. Each day as part of school announcements, she told students something about a mental health disorder to start the conversation.
Loucks is one of eight Ontario students to sit on the youth action committee advising the board of Children's Mental Health Ontario this year. She's also been recruited for similar roles, including the Bluewater board's staff and student wellness committee, for a group advising Keystone Child, Youth and Family Services about strategic direction and community relations.
Friday's event included 70 staff from Keystone. Based in Owen Sound, the organization also has about 40 part-time staff and about two-thirds of its activities relate to mental health issues in people up to the age of 18.
Executive director Phil Dodd said the group has been so impressed with Loucks' project they have hired her for the summer to help develop a template to offer similar programs in all area high schools.
Dodd said it was clear from the arts competition that students at CDHS understand Loucks' campaign.
"I was very emotional in reviewing that material," he said. "They got it, they understood it and they were able to portray it in a way that sends a very powerful message. This is a community that wants to take care of themselves, that really wants to support each other as a student body. If they see someone in distress, they're going to do something about it."
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)