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Mental Illness and Mental Health Awareness 427
Mental Illness and Mental Health Awareness
Did you know one in five Canadians are likely to experience a diagnosable mental illness? This means that at any given time, almost 20% of students in a typical classroom will be dealing with some type of mental health problem. Mental health problems are more common than most people realize. 

Our Trustee's Multi-year Plan and Director's Annual Plan have a sharp focus on making well-being clear and concrete for our students and staff with particular attention to addressing mental health.

In York Region, school boards, the hospitals and mental health agencies are working together as partners to develop an integrated, collaborative approach to serving the mental health needs of our students; this model, called COMPASS (community partners with schools), is beginning to network, integrate and build on the strengths of existing service providers, expand services available in the community and link mental health, social, recreational and educational resources to create a comprehensive support system for children, youth and their families. The goal is for the school to be part of a coordinated approach to helping families and their children navigate a direct path to services that are more easily accessed.

Mental health like physical health is important to all of us. Keeping mentally fit helps us to manage the challenges of everyday life. When adults and children are not mentally well, everyday activities such as getting up for work or school, doing things with others, completing schoolwork, homework, housework or having fun with your family can seem overwhelming.

There is no single factor that causes mental illness, however, understanding the signs can be helpful to get help early and avoid more significant problems. This is just like getting a checkup from the doctor to help you stay well, or making sure you exercise to keep your body fit so you can ride your bike or play soccer.

It is never too early to learn how to recognize the signs of mental health problems and indicators of stress that can contribute to mental health problems. It is never too early to learn everyday ways to support our mental health and well-beingBoth adults and kids can learn how to recognize the signs of stress and ways to stay mentally well.

If you are worried about your child's moods or behaviours, talk to your child about it. You might say something like:

  • "I've noticed lately that __________, and I'm worried because that's not normal for you."
  • "How are you doing?"
  • "How have you been feeling? You seem really down lately?"
  • "What's been bugging you these days?" or "What's been stressing you out these days?"
Talk to the staff at your child's school. Talk to your child's teacher, who is able to see your child at school and compare how your child is doing compared to other children. You might ask:
  • How your child is doing in school
  • How your child is getting along with teachers or classmates
  • Any concerns the teacher has

Build in daily ways to foster your son or daughter’s mental health and well-being:

  • Encourage good sleep habits as getting enough sleep supports mental health and well-being and decreases incidents of mental illness.
  • Encourage daily “face to face” time with family and friends  as this builds social resilience and supports relationships.
  • Promote a habit of gratitude with ourselves and others as gratitude has been shown to be a factor that promote mental health and well-being.​

It's possible that the problems that you have noticed either don't show up at school, or haven't been noticed at the school. Often children and youth are able to "hold it in" until after school, especially if the problem isn't yet serious. But it's still important to get help for your child or teen, even if the school hasn't identified a problem. If school staff has noticed something wrong, they may be able to offer support. School social workers, guidance counsellors or psychologists may be available to help. The school may also be able to refer you to other helpful community resources.

Include friends and other parents. Get to know your child or teen's friends. Encourage your child to have friends over and make friends feel welcome (allow reasonable privacy and lots of food!). Be friendly with your child's friends, and take an interest in them. But don't come on too strong. You want to create a situation where a friend would feel comfortable sharing concerns about your child or teen with you. Research studies have shown that youth with a mental health problem are more likely to tell a friend than an adult. Make an effort to meet other parents at school or sports events, or when dropping kids off. You may be able to ask other parents if they've noticed anything about your child, or if their child has shared a concern.

Take your child to see a family physician or pediatrician or have your child seen by a mental health professional, like a school psychologist, school social worker, or psychiatrist.

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