Friday, October 21, 2011

“Relax - it’s only high school” – dealing with mental health in schools

This post was inspired by the sad story  of Canuck hockey player Rick Rypien and his unfortunate death after a long struggle with depression. 

Our students are too busy! When I consider the number of hours some of our students "work"  in an average week (academic expectations, extra-curricular activities, service hours, volunteer hours, job, and other societal pressures, etc.) I start to worry about the health and well-being of this generation. 

Simultaneous to this increased pressure on students (I do think there is a direct correlation) , I have also seen a noticeable increase in the number of students who are “shutting down” due to stress and anxiety related illnesses – students who are no longer willing or capable of dealing with the day to day expectations of student life.

Over the last 5 years, as a school, we have had to allocate more and more resources towards the  mental health of our students.

This is a sad but necessary reality.

As a parent of young children myself, it scares me.

While I don’t have all the answers I think we can do a couple of things as teachers and schools:

  • As teachers we need to model healthy and balanced lives. My job can consume me. The demands on my time can be overwhelming. I owe it to my family and friends to be present to them. I owe it to myself to dedicate personal time to feed my soul and keep my body healthy. Oh, one more thing – it’s OK to say “No” sometimes. 

  • Provide students multiple avenues to share their worries. Students need adults that they trust to share their worries, fears and frustrations. I’m proud of the counseling services we provide our students. At our school, we also provide Peer Counselors to our students. These student counselors are trained (this is a critically important piece) to provide a listening and empathetic ear. 

  • Naming and teaching the issues – we can’t ignore “the elephants in the room”. We owe it to our students to teach them about how to live healthy lives. There are a growing number of resources that schools can access when teaching about mental health. At our school, we access support from our extended community - parents, health care providers and students to support our student’s needs – offering special workshops and teaching specific mental health related lessons.   For example, this year we added a time management component to our course selection process for students - bring this topic to the forefront of everyone's attention. 

  • Let’s find ways to take some pressure off our students. After all is said and done – perhaps the best advice comes from a teacher I respect tremendously when he shared the following thoughts some time ago: 

“We all need to relax. After all, it’s only high school.”


  1. Hi,
    Your site was recommended to me by a fellow parent and parent council member. I applaud your thoughts and insights, and wish more teachers and principals would be more conscious of this. This being our teenagers in high school being too busy, and more and more being demanded of them.
    As parents we have to do everything we can to contribute to this balance that needs to be there.
    If it isn't ,our children's needs aren't met and we all have to suffer the consequences.Having support available at the schools is important and so is having support at home. Being interested in what our children/teenagers/students are doing and thinking is vital, and communicating this to them is just as important.
    Keep the conversation going, please.

  2. Hi Birgit
    Thank you for taking the time to comment and read my post. This is a growing issue for students. Like I mentioned in my post, as a parent I am quite concerned and mindful of this issue for my own children. Creating safe places (school and home) to have these conversations is critical. Thanks again