A blog post on youth mental health put out by the Abbotsford School District’s chief staffer last week stirred some controversy online, and the superintendent now says he may put out a part two to the post to clarify his position.
Titled “Are we the source of student mental health challenges?” Superintendent Kevin Godden’s post drew from a talk put on by psychologist Stan Kutcher at a provincial superintendents’ conference in Vancouver recently. In the post, Godden questioned whether society was over-medicalizing mental wellness.
“While I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, (it) was rather dismissive. Especially with the concluding paragraph that he was raised by tough-minded parents, coaches, and turned out OK, and perhaps we needed to turn to parenting like that. It was very dismissive,” said Karen Copeland, an Abbotsford mental health advocate and founder of Champions for Community Wellness.
She said the article wasn’t necessarily wrong – “I just think it’s incomplete.” There is validity in learning to discern between mental health issues and mood issues that can be solved through better self-care, such as exercise and diet, Copeland said.
“I think that the blog post really kind of focused in on that far end of the spectrum where we’re just labelling things as a mental health issue without going further up the spectrum to how do we make that distinction between what is typical to what’s more concerning to what maybe requires more clinical intervention,” she said.
“Anytime you write an article or promote an opinion that’s related to mental health, I think you need to acknowledge that there are people that do struggle significantly with their mental health, and I don’t think that came through in the article.”
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Parts of the article, Copeland said, bordered on the “tough love” take on mental health – that mental health issues would be mostly resolved if more parents were tougher on their children.
“The demographic that is at highest risk for suicide is middle-aged males who were raised with tough love, who were raised to hold it all in, who were raised to suck it up,” Copeland said. “There are some people who will have an inherent resiliency to be able to manage that and to cope with that, and then there are others who won’t, and I think that needs to be acknowledged as well.”
But Godden said he wasn’t trying to be dismissive of those who struggle with mental health issues, and who need of professional or clinical help.
“I’ve devoted my life to working with kids who have disabilities and who have challenges. So there are a portion of kids who have legitimate mental illness that we ought to address. The point that Dr. Kutcher makes and that I make is that we will not be able to properly address the needs of kids and youth who have a legitimate mental health issue if we conflate what a mental illness is,” Godden said.
“The point is that the resources that we ought to bring to those folks should be pointed at them and less so at youth who have issues that might otherwise be perceived as just stressful or difficult, but that is a part of everyday life is what Dr. Kutcher would say.”
Godden pointed to things like making sure kids don’t sit on their phones late into the evening or night to make sure they get a good night’s sleep as ways to improve mental wellness among those who likely wouldn’t need professional help.
With that said, Godden responded to the criticism that his post lacked necessary nuance by saying “there might be a part two” to the blog post.
“In the whole notion of response to challenges, there’s a notion of prevention and awareness, intervention, and this blog was really about prevention and awareness. It is perhaps a reasonable comment that people have made that this doesn’t deal with what is the intervention that professionals have to utilize to try to support kids and youth with legitimate mental health issues.”