Gulf Islands Secondary School’s Leadership Class isn’t afraid of challenges.
For the past four months, leadership students worked with school staff and community members to tackle an important but stigma-ridden subject by organizing an all-day Wellness Summit focused on mental health. The summit took place on Thursday, Feb. 16, opening with a Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes presentation by Victoria-based Andrea Paquette.
Students then attended three different workshops offered from a list of almost 40 different sessions. Educational topics ranged from overcoming challenges with mental health to how to support others who may be suffering, and many were strategy oriented, providing arts, fitness or spiritual activities that help reduce stress and improve wellbeing.
Mental health and reducing its associated stigma so that it can be discussed and treated like any physical illness or disease is often in the news these days. Initiatives like the Bell Let’s Talk campaign held each January and championed by Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, along with other in-depth media and medical field work, have contributed to an awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and the need for more research and programs.
Between 10 and 20 per cent of Canadian children experience some form of mental health disorder, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Diagnosing disorders at an early stage is critical to heading off a lifelong health battle, so the B.C. government’s Feb. 20 announcement that $140 million more in mental-health funding over three years will largely support children and youth is a welcome one. Similarly, the federal Liberal government recently stressed its commitment to improving mental health services in negotiating with the provinces over health-care funding.
Growing government recognition of the problem and willingness to support it with health-care dollars is one big step. But the other is at the heart of initiatives like the GISS Wellness Summit: Education of one’s self, friends and family members so that discussions and learning can continue past and outside of a one-day event at school.
Congratulations to the GISS Leadership Class and the many individuals and groups supporting their initiative.