Let’s Talk About Mental Health

It seems a day doesn’t go by that we aren’t reading or hearing about something related to mental health. Although what we read or hear is more often about insufficient services or concerning statistics, especially among youth, at least we are beginning the conversation! The more we talk about, educate, and promote an understanding around mental health, the more it will discourage people from seeing themselves or others struggling with a mental health issue as fundamentally different from anyone else.

As the tagline for this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day says, “Mental Health Affects Us All.” Anyone can be affected by mental health concerns, at any age. A mental health problem occurs when thoughts or feelings continue for a long time, become overwhelming, and make it difficult to carry on with typical daily activities. Two people who are experiencing the same event, social circumstance, challenge or success in life will not react and respond in the same way. How they react and respond is influenced by many factors (biology, life events and experiences, personality, social circumstances, age, etc.), and even two siblings can have different reactions. However, we do know that everyone does better when they are surrounded by a community of people who are kind, compassionate, caring, and understanding. Being open in our thinking, willing to listen without judgement, and accurate in our understanding of what constitutes a mental health issue, allows us to help get or give the support needed.

Stress is a natural and healthy part of life. It keeps us safe, can help us concentrate, focus, get motivated, and even exhilarate us. However, if not kept in check, it can interfere with our ability to carry on with our daily activities, feel crippling, and even lead to further mental health issues. Our mental health is influenced by how we think and feel about life in general, how we cope with everyday stressors, how we feel about ourselves, how we deal with negative things that happen in our lives, and how we manage our emotions. If we have never had to deal with failure or mistakes, or if we are under the belief that if we aren’t happy or stress-free something must be “wrong” with us, when life throws us one of its inevitable curve balls, no matter how big or small, it could have a very negative impact on our mental health. Life is full of both positive and negative events, steps forward and setbacks, and having the strategies and tools to cope will influence how we react and respond, and how that affects our mental health.

When we talk openly, accurately, and without judgement about mental health and mental illness, we are promoting mental wellness and helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. By providing opportunities for failure and mistakes, we are teaching our children an important skill and helping to build resiliency. Learning to identify and manage emotions helps us to recognize in ourselves and others when a reaction does not seem to fit the situation. This understanding is something we strive to instill in our students and staff every day at KCS because we know that early diagnosis and intervention are key to helping when a mental health issue arises. Resiliency, positive thinking, self-efficacy, and recognizing and naming emotions won’t stop a mental health problem from occurring, but it will influence how we react and equip us to respond. That can make all the difference.

On Tuesday, January 30, we will be hosting our Encouraging Dialogue speaker series “Mental Wellness: Guiding our Children from Stress to Strength” in order to continue to better inform and educate our community about mental health. As is evinced by our sold-out evening, this is an important topic to discuss, better understand, and keep talking about.

Mental Health

This Generation We’re Raising: What We Need to Know and Do

If you’re reading this blog, it’s because you care about kids. You may be a parent, you may be an educator, or you may just simply be one of the many who know how much kids, and their early years, matter. Since you care about kids, there’s a book you should know about.

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood was written by Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor who specialises in personality and behaviour trends. To understand today’s kids, Twenge accessed four databases that have collectively surveyed 11 million American youth since the 1960s. Her conclusions are based on differences found between the iGen cohort and those of earlier generations (Millenials, GenX, and Boomers) in these longitudinal databases, not on surveys that focus only on one generation. Older readers will find it as interesting to learn about their own generation, as it is to see how much iGen marks a dramatic departure.

iGen’ers were born in 1995 or later, and have always lived in a world with ready access to the internet (hence the ‘i’). It’s no coincidence that some of the features of this generation align with the introduction and widespread embrace of the smartphone. Here are some of the most notable trends:

  1. Growing up reluctantly

On milestones that tend to mark adolescence and adulthood, iGen’ers are in less of a rush, reaching them much later, if at all:

  • Comfort with leaving home
  • Going out with friends
  • Dating
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Marrying
  • Having children
  • Getting a job
  • Taking risks
  1. Growing up online

This generation spends on average six hours a day of their leisure time on “new media” (texting, gaming, video chat, social media). Social media has introduced the need to “present oneself” online, which has led to the rise of selfies and the growing practice of cultivating one’s image to look perfect. Among girls, posting photos that make them appear attractive is also a distinguishing feature of this generation. The effort to gain online friends, followers, and “likes” is significant.

This generation spends less time with friends (platonic as well as boyfriends and girlfriends) in person than previous generations, but they are arguably more preoccupied with those relationships because of how they can play out online (cyberbullying, the quest for likes, the need for instant gratification/responses). Teens hanging out with their friends daily has dropped by half over the past fifteen years, with the steepest drop since 2010 (rise of the smartphone). Many explain that it’s simply more interesting to go home, game, or watch Netflix. A by-product of this is that they have less experience learning social skills, which exacerbates other problems (see #4).

  1. Not reading and not following news

Relative to previous generations, this cohort reads less and is less aware of what’s happening in the world. Their world, via their phones and gaming systems, is small but plenty intense to keep their interest. Despite being at their fingertips, they aren’t replacing the learning potential of books with online reading and learning. “We have the most complete and instant access to information in all of history, and we’re using it to watch funny cat videos,” notes Twenge.

  1. Mentally fragile

Anxiety and depression aren’t just better recognised and acknowledged these days. The symptoms of mental illness are much more widespread, to an alarming degree. Suicide rates are significantly higher among teens, and that is despite the fact that the use of antidepressants is also higher. The reduction in time spent with others, and increase in time spent online, are known to be variables that directly impact mental health. The negative effect of excessive social media on mental health is strongest for younger teens and particularly harsh for those who are already vulnerable. In addition, girls fare worse than boys. While many iGen’ers find it hard to move away from social media, many also express that they find the use of social media stressful.

Children raised by over-involved (“helicopter”) parents, another feature of this generation, experience lower psychological well-being. The preoccupation with safety and happiness made evident with this parenting style reinforces anxiety in their children.

iGen’ers also tend to get less sleep than previous generations, and much less than is healthy. This contributes to poor physical and mental health. Sleeping with their phone means their sleep is disrupted by the pings and buzzes of incoming texts. The blue light emitted by their phones also interferes with sleep.

  1. Pre-occupied with safety

 This generation is much safer than previous generations, in large part because of their own determination to be safe. Significantly fewer drink alcohol, drive, party, get into trouble, engage in sex, and other pastimes that were more common in previous generations, and that often led to unwelcome consequences. They are less likely to be careless drivers, and less likely to drive with someone who has been drinking. Physical fights are much less common, as is sexual assault. This generation knows what is dangerous and doesn’t feel compelled to engage in it.

Their commitment to safety includes emotional safety and notable discomfort with people who say things they disagree with. This cohort finds certain topics upsetting (race relations and sexual assault were shared as two examples) and will readily launch a campaign to get professors fired and guest speakers “disinvited” should they tread into emotionally disturbing content. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” (given in advance of an uncomfortable topic) are new expectations they have of universities.

iGen’ers are also relatively anxious about their financial security, making them risk-averse in their learning and pursuit of a career. Universities are expected to be places where they will be prepared for these careers, not places where they should “seek meaning” and be forced to consider ideas from multiple perspectives. They have an admirable work ethic. They know that there are no guarantees of employment and they dread the student-loan debt this questionable future includes. They are less likely to want to launch their own business because of the risk that entails. Instead, those who are keen to work want a stable job. Others, curiously, just don’t want to work and put it off as long as they can (the gaming systems are still within reach, after all).

  1. Reduction in religious and political affiliations

This is a cohort that is notably individualistic. They’re open-minded on most issues as long as the issues don’t affect them directly (gender rights, same-sex marriage, race relations, legalization of marijuana for example). They are less interested in being part of a group that would require them to conform to rules, beliefs, or policies. They are even less interested in conforming to their peers on fashion, stating clearly they want to be their own person (“materialistic nonconformists”). This open-mindedness doesn’t mean they have no opinions, however. In fact, this generation is notably less tolerant of those with opinions they oppose.

Twenge’s suggestions for how to help:

  1. Help them step away from their phones
  • Delay getting a smartphone as long as possible
  • Start with a flip phone or another device that isn’t connected to the internet
  • Leverage online tools that restrict phone use
  • Strive to keep kids from social media sites that have long feeds where they are tempted to create an online identity, and seek friends and “likes”; Snapchat is recommended because snaps only go to individuals, posts are impermanent, and there is no system of “liking” images
  • Have conversations with your child about sexting, posting revealing pictures, and pornography (an alarming part of their world)
  1. Get kids connecting with friends in person (even if you prefer the safety of having them at home)
  2. Be mindful of the rise in anxiety and depression, and take steps to help your child avoid them (lower screen time, higher in-person time, exercise, proper sleep, and expert guidance as soon as needed)
  3. Allow, and even push, them to grow up more quickly in certain respects
  • Relax curfew and rules on going out with friends
  • Insist they get their driver’s license
  • Consider a gap year as time for them to grow up a bit (independent travel, work…) before they go to college unprepared for the drastic change
  1. Reduce our preoccupation with safety
  • Don’t be quick to label normal childhood conflicts “bullying”
  • Avoid using safety as an excuse or explanation for practices and rules
  • Model and teach children how to deal with people who express an opinion you disagree with (discuss, ignore, or develop logical arguments against it)
  • Provide experiences where iGen’ers have to face (responsible) risk
  1. Meet them half-way at school
  • Provide reading material that is more engaging, up-to-date, interactive, with shorter texts, a more conversational style, and the addition of videos, quizzes, and questionnaires
  • Teach them how to judge credibility of content, evaluate sources, and recognise quality research
  • Ensure that school time is relevant (they’re anxious to learn what’s needed for a job)
  • Aim for depth over breadth of learning
  • Intentionally coax them to ask questions and take intellectual risks
  • Find ways to lessen the dramatic differences between a sheltered home life and the outside world
  • Teach them how to communicate with older coworkers and clients (conversation, negotiation, email)

We can all breathe more easily knowing that many of the dangers which plagued earlier generations are responsibly avoided by iGen’ers. Twenge’s book raises new concerns, however, and we become the irresponsible generation if they’re left unconsidered. “If they can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of fear, they can still fly,” she concludes. I have the delight of raising two iGen’ers and helping to educate hundreds. Indeed, they can fly beyond our imaginations. But the data make clear that they, like all previous generations, still require help from the adults in their midst. Thanks to Twenge’s research, we can help them launch, and soar.

igen

The KCS Spirit

Once a month, the halls of KCS are filled with students dressed in the colours of their favourite sports teams, looking cozy in their pyjamas or perhaps looking a little wild for crazy hair day. In January, excitement was in the air as the students celebrated their teams and enjoyed a wonderful Pizza Lunch courtesy of our Parent Network and today’s spirit day is no different.

Always high energy, KCS Spirit Days also represent KCS’s commitment to citizenship and the key habit of making the world a better place. January’s Sports Day was organized by our Grade 3 classes. Under the leadership of our Citizenship Co-ordinator, Ms. Shelley Gaudet, the Grade 3 classes worked collaboratively to select, plan and promote the theme of Sports for their Spirit Day. From Pajamas and House colours, to “Dress Up” and Opposites Day, classes from Grades 1 to 8 will have an opportunity to be the driving force behind one of our fantastic Spirit Days.

Perhaps the greatest message delivered on Spirit Day is working collectively to make the world a better place.  In addition to dressing up, the students donate $2 to support the Get Ahead Project or GAP through The Leacock Foundation.  Where do all of those Toonies go, you may ask?  Ms. Gaudet sums it up wonderfully: “As the world becomes a more global community, students learn how this affects their lives and those around them. KCS continues to support the Get Ahead Project School (GAP), serving children from underprivileged communities in Queenstown, South Africa. They are invited to donate $2 to the school during each Spirit Day…and as a result… KCS has helped GAP’s technology budget annually in an effort to provide sustainable funding for the school. In addition, many classes have written letters, sent sports equipment, and made scrapbooks for the students in South Africa.”

Well done KCS!

What does Mental Health mean to you? Let’s talk about it!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 27, is Bell Let’s Talk Day.  This is a day where Canadians are encouraged to talk, text, and tweet in order to help encourage conversation around mental health, increase awareness, reduce the stigma, and raise funds to support mental health initiatives across the country (to learn more, go to http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ ).

Here at KCS, we have made it a priority to address the importance of mental health and wellness for our students and our staff.  We strive to promote overall wellness through our programs, curriculum and extra-curricular offerings, and we’re determined to keep the conversation going every day. We encourage students to talk to their teachers, parents, or other adults in their lives when they are feeling as if something may not be quite right.  We work to assure all of our students that if they choose to talk to someone here at KCS, they know the conversation will happen without judgement or the need to feel any shame for how they are feeling.  And in doing so, we hope that this helps to reduce some of the stigma that exists around mental health.

Over the past couple of weeks, in grades 1 – 8 either your child’s health teacher or I have taken some time to talk about mental health.  The conversations and lessons have been tailored to be age- and developmentally appropriate, and aligned with the Ministry of Education Health curriculum.  As part of the lessons, and in following one of the Bell Let’s Talk initiatives of answering the question: “What Does Mental Health Mean to You?”, the students were asked to fill in a thought bubble to share their ideas around mental health.  These are now displayed in our front lobby and throughout the school.  Our youngest students framed their answers by telling what they do when they are worried about something; our grade 4s answered the question “What Makes me Happy?”; and our grade 5 to 8 students and many faculty explained what mental health means to them.

The answers are moving, insightful, and show that there is a growing understanding of what mental health and wellness means at KCS.  These answers weren’t prompted; they came from the heart of everyone who chose to share their ideas.  Read them, and be inspired to do your part to make sure this is a conversation that will continue each and every day. It is just that important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Bell Let’s Talk Day and Beyond

Mental HealthThe statistics tell us that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, yet 2 out of 3 of those individuals will never seek help, choosing instead to suffer in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. That stigma stops people from getting the help that they need and can make those individuals feel even more isolated.  But we can change that, and we’re encouraging our students to do so.

On Wednesday, January 28, our grade 7 and 8 students will join thousands of other students from grades 7 through 12 from across Canada as they participate in the Bell Let’s Talk Day webcast. This webcast will feature Clara Hughes, Michael Landsberg and other guests who will share their personal stories and help encourage those watching to work to end the stigma using Bell’s Let’s Talk 5 simple steps:

  1. Language Matters
  2. Educate Yourself
  3. Be Kind
  4. Listen and Ask
  5. Talk About It

Although Bell Let’s Talk Day takes place on Wednesday, January 28th, talking about mental health issues is not just a one day event.  We encourage our students to have these conversations every day and we actively work to help them better understand what overall student wellness includes.  If they can recognize when something just does not feel right, and they know that they will be listened to without shame or fear, then we’re doing our part to help reduce the stigma and encourage dialogue around such an important topic.  We also know that prevention and early intervention are key for those experiencing a mental health issue.  This was a reason why our school trained our faculty and staff in Mental Health First Aid during 2014.  It is why we strive to promote overall student wellness through our programs, curriculum, and extra-curricular offerings.  It is a reason why our Parent Network began the #KCS_TTM (Talk That Matters) Speaker Series for students this year.  And finally, it is because knowing each and every one of the students at the school is important, not just for academic planning, but also to ensure that we can see when that conversation needs to happen as early intervention in the area of mental health is so important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Mental Health at KCS

Mental HealthAccording to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, in Canada, one person in three will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime and 70% of those mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence. However, it also notes that mental health crises can be avoided with early intervention and support.  At KCS, we are working hard to help provide some of that support.

When your children return to school on September 3rd all of our teaching staff and many of the non-teaching staff will have been certified in Mental Health First Aid. The rest will become certified as the year progresses.  Just as physical first aid does not make one a health care professional, mental health first aid does not turn the faculty and staff into mental health professionals; however, what it does do is allow us to recognize signs and symptoms of a wide range of mental health concerns so we are better equipped to have a conversation with you about what we are seeing, as well as what some of the possible next steps may be.  But this isn’t all we are doing.

We have been having the conversations about mental health for quite some time – our Encouraging Dialogue Speakers Series over the past three years have focused on mental health concerns in order to better educate our wider school community.  Our Habits of Mind, Body, and Action and the three school rules (Respect, Manners and Try Your Best) help to provide balance, enable resilience, and create a common language that we can use to talk about what our students are experiencing and what they can do to help themselves and each other. Teachers attend weekly divisional meetings where, among many other topics, we discuss concerns that we may have and work together to best help the student(s) in need.  Teachers attend workshops, conferences, take courses, participate in personal learning and reading to strengthen their understanding and awareness, and better their strategies for doing what is best for our students.  Our small class sizes allow us to truly get to know each child, allowing us to recognize when something just doesn’t seem right.  Class meetings are held where students can talk about what is going well, and what concerns they may have.  During Health class and other instructional time, teachers use the Steps to Respect or Second Steps program, along with other resources, to help provide their students with skills in areas such as stress reduction, dealing with disappointment, sharing successes, navigating friendships and positive relationships, dealing with bullying, and negotiation and compromise.

In September of 2013, a new position was established at KCS, Director of Student Life, so that there would be a designated person, a trained counsellor, to address the needs of the students and provide them support and guidance.

You may recall Andrea Fanjoy’s blog about our Student Voice this past spring.  We asked the students to let us know how they perceived the health and wellness at KCS and what we could do to make it better.  We listened, and we have put some of those ideas into action – being physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually healthy makes us mentally healthy as well.

But most importantly, what we are doing about mental health at KCS is talking about it and working to end the stigma.  As Clara Hughes said when promoting Clara’s Big Ride “Let’s turn mental illness into mental wellness”. By having the conversation we are helping to do just that.

Over the pasts few years, schools and businesses across the country have begun to make positive steps towards this goal.  KCS belongs to the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS).  Each year, CAIS holds a conference for Heads and Chairs in October.  One of the speakers at this year’s conference is Eric Windeler, from The Jack Project, who will speaking on the topic of mental health, and explaining why it should be a school’s top priority.

If you have any questions on this topic, please come in and speak to us.  For further information and additional reading please see the following websites.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life