Mental health should be addressed earlier, Langley school district trustees hear

Topic of mental wellness not formally discussed until Grade 10, which is too late say students

Suicide and student mental wellness were topics of discussion at the last Langley board of education meeting, Dec. 8.

In September, the board asked the district to provide a report on what work is being done and what supports are in place for the growing number of students with mental health issues.

In fact, it is one of the largest issues facing students today, said the report.

Langley assistant superintendent Claire Guy along with Support Services’ Renge Bailie presented a power point to the board about mental wellness initiatives in schools, but emphasized it is both a complex issue and a work in progress.

When students were asked what they thought, they all agreed that Planning 10 class is too late to be talking about mental wellness because mental health issues are showing up in the primary years.

Over the past few years, schools have seen a sharp increase in the number of children with anxiety. Learning how to self-regulate emotions is as important now as numeracy, the report indicated.

Often mental health issues will come out in the classroom, including bad behaviour, which results in other students judging and labeling those students, said Bailie.

For progress to be made it must involve everyone, they said.

Educators must work to reduce the stigma attached to mental health, students must be taught to be resilient, and support services must be in place when they’re needed.

“The school district can’t solve everyone’s mental wellness challenges,” said Guy. “Counsellors can help in the short term but they are not meant to be a student’s personal therapist.”

A workshop about eating disorders was well attended by teachers and several mental health first aid certificates were completed by teachers, support staff and administration. Another first aid class is being offered in the new year.

Recognizing that Langley has dealt with several students taking their own lives this year, trustees wanted to know what the district is doing.

“We are very proud  to have strong protocol around suicidal ideation, that other districts look to us for help.

“Teachers know that it may come out in their writing or in their behaviour,” said Bailie. “Teachers know what to say and how students help.”

But trustee Rosemary Wallace believes there are still faults in the system.

“We are still losing kids to suicide. There are still holes in support,” she said.

Trustee Alison McVeigh felt hopeful that these are good first steps.

“We weren’t even talking about this at board meetings two years ago, so we have already come far. We have a lot of work to do but we can’t own this entirely,” McVeigh said.

Bailie said a long-term goal is to have a hub within Langley where youth dealing with mental health issues have a place to go to feel safe to gather and where supports are available.

A new mental health survey is being conducted with Grade 4 to 7 students that will provide an even clearer picture around the issues.