It’s Mental Health Week across Canada, and a group of Dr. Kearney students spent today speaking with their younger peers about building healthy and supportive habits to help them deal with their struggles and those of others.
It’s the culmination of a new unit of lessons on mental health literacy for Grade 9 students throughout the school district. The students volunteered their time afterward, packing all they learned into a slideshow lesson and activity plan to present to elementary school students at Alwin Holland and Robert Ogilvie schools.
Mental health literacy means recognizing the signs of mental distress and disorder, when to get worried, and how to speak up and ask for help, said Dylan Burtch.
“It means being able to talk about how you feel, and not judging people for the way they feel, or being able to understand how having a mental disorder makes life different or difficult,” Burtch said.
For instance, a slushy brain freeze, while certainly a sign of short-lived distress, is not the same as an anxiety or panic attack; or the same as someone struggling with bipolar or an eating disorder.
Jillian Stone, who went class to class with Burtch agreed. Mental health is just as important as one’s physical health, Stone said, and it starts by building healthy habits to help fight off the challenges of every day life. If you’re anxious about a test, study more and study hard, and stay focused, Stone said. When life gets stressful, slow down and breathe deep, go for walk, or immerse yourself in art and sport, she said.
“Whatever you want to do to get that feeling to go away,” Stone said.
The mental health unit was developed by Cindy McGarroch and teachers at Dr. Kearney and Bert Bowes schools, with the help of a $33,000 provincial grant. It’s purpose was to give teachers training in mental health, and to give students going to either high school or the Energetic Learning Campus a meaningful project to raise mental health awareness throughout May as they wind down the school year.
“All teachers need strategies for dealing with this in the classroom. It’s just about well-being,” said McGarroch, who works for the school district as a support teacher focused on school culture and social-emotional learning.
Seeing the students eager to volunteer their time to extend their learning to their younger peers was the best outcome, McGarroch said. Though only two schools were visited today, McGarroch hopes more will be visited next year.
“It’s powerful when kids are teaching kids,” she said.
“When we reteach something to someone else, it deepens our own learning. It’s powerful. The younger kids are attentive. They’re just really interested in the bigger kids, the 8s and 9s that are here. Kids are curious. They want to know.”
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