Daniel PunchSarnia Observer
Date Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
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The only way to develop an effective youth mental health strategy is to engage young people, says the public school board’s new mental health leader.
“I’m most excited about going into schools and talking with the kids to find out what they think they need,” said Lori Brush, who started in the Lambton Kent District School Board’s newest position this week.
“I need to listen and hear what the gaps are.”
Lambton Kent is one of 15 Ontario school boards to get funding for a mental health leader this year. The program debuted in 15 boards last year, and the remaining 42 will be funded in 2013.
The mental health leader will develop and implement the board’s new mental health and addictions strategy, according to a Ministry of Education release.
Brush is a Newfoundland native with a background in teaching and counselling psychology. She spent years as an elementary school guidance counsellor before moving to Sarnia and spending six years as a behaviour therapist at Pathways Health Centre for Kids.
“Coming into this role, I had both community experience as well as educational experience,” said Brush, 35.
Tackling mental health is a job for the entire community, and it’s part of Brush’s job to connect students and teachers with existing community resources, she said.
“This role is about marrying some of those outside agencies that are already doing great work, and how within the school system we can make sure they’re known,” she said.
Brush recognizes that youth suicide is a pressing issue in Sarnia-Lambton.
“Everybody knows of the recent explosion of suicides, and it’s rocked the community,” said Brush, commending the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee on its work.
The new position should enhance the board’s existing mental health initiatives with improved coordination and guidance from the ministry, said superintendent of special education Dave Doey.
“This will help because we’ll be planning based on a ministry template, we’ll be getting expert assistance with that plan, and we now have a dedicated staff person who will take the lead,” Doey said.
Dr. Bruce Ferguson will serve as coach - the board’s link to the provincial steering committee.
Key to the new strategy is making sure educators can recognize signs of compromised mental health, Doey noted. Their role as educators is to identify and refer, he said.
“We’re with the kids for big part of the day,” Doey said.
“What are we noticing, what’s different, what’s concerning, and who do we need to hook them up with to explore further?”
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)