November 1st, 2020

New Holy Spirit program focuses on mental health

By Mabell, Dave on November 6, 2019.

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

Students across the Lethbridge region will be learning more about mental health – and how their brain develops.

Those are among the goals of a new promotion and prevention initiative backed by Alberta Health Services.

The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division’s proposal for a Mental Health Capacity Building Grant is one of five being funded this year.

A series of evening events aimed at helping families to support their children – and to build greater awareness of mental health – will be announced in coming months as one of its components.

“We want to make sure that our students are aware of what mental health is,” explains Michelle MacKinnon, the regional division’s director of support services.

“We all know to go see a health professional for regular checkups for our physical health,” she says. “But we need to teach that mental health checkups are just as important.”

The grant will assist in providing about 5,000 students throughout Holy Spirit schools the quality resources that help them “really dig into what it means to be mentally healthy,” MacKinnon says.

“More importantly, it will stress how important it is to seek help when needed – something that the stigmas around mental health and illness in our society make really difficult.

“It’s really normalizing that.”

Part of the awareness initiative is to assure students that it’s normal to feel unhappy or sad sometimes, she notes, as well as upbeat and excited.

“We’re not all happy and ‘singing in the rain’ every day.”

And students are reporting higher levels of stress today, MacKinnon finds.

When there’s a problem, she says, Holy Spirit students are encouraged to talk to a family-school liaison counsellor. When it’s a more serious situation, they’re helped by a more experienced member of the division’s counselling staff.

And when appropriate, MacKinnon says, an Alberta Mental Health and Addictions staff member is brought into the picture.

“They’re one of our key partners.”

With counsellors helping more students with pressing issues, however, they have little time to promote mental wellness.

Now, with funding for a two-year initiative, Holy Spirit students will be able to learn about conflict resolution, for example, or healthy relationships.

“We’re really open to all possibilities,” and MacKinnon says there are many proven approaches available.

They’re being evaluated while school board officials are interviewing and hiring qualified men and women to carry out mental health and wellness programs. One of the important tasks, she says, is teaching students how their brains develop healthy in step with their physical and spiritual growth.

Holy Spirit superintendent Chris Smeaton believes the benefits of the new program are clear and long-lasting.

“The work that has already been done to bring this program to Holy Spirit is nothing short of amazing,” he says.

“We know that we need to do better to ensure the future health of our students in every way possible – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

And now students will learn mental health literacy “early in their lives, setting them up for success.”

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