Sunday, February 17, 2013

School lessons: when our assignment is late

The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest school board, released a report this week. The report shows that 57 per cent of high school students said they were losing sleep because of their worries, either sometimes or all of the time. About 66 per cent said they were under a lot of stress, sometimes or all of the time…and that’s even before they reach college or university.   The aim of the study is to identify if schools can stop student suicide.
Also this week, Queen’s university released a long awaited report making concrete recommendations to reduce student stress. This report is entitled Student Mental Health and Wellness Framework and Recommendations for a Comprehensive Strategy.
The tragedy behind all of this: Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths of 15- to 24-years-olds in Canada. Suicide is the second leading cause of death, after car accidents, for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24.  Canada has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world.  Even beyond these statistics, First Nation’s youth commit suicide 5-6 times more than non-aboriginal youth and the suicide rates for Inuit youth are 11 x higher.
Are teachers equipped to identify mental illness? In a classroom of 30 students, about 5 to 6 students will be facing a mental health problem, and 3 to 4 of them will have a problem that interferes with their daily life (Waddell and Sheppard 2002/Ontario Child Health Study).
Clearly, under the Child and Family Services Act, teachers have a responsibility to report abuse….but how do teachers deal with mental health concerns?  Is it a teacher (who may spend 70 minutes a day 5 days a week in front of a class of 23 students)  primary responsibility to identify a child’s mental health problems  when we hear that families  often don’t even pick up on their children’s distress.  
The family of Jordan Gallant has filed a $2.45million dollar lawsuit for teacher negligence for failing to act on an  assignment, perceived to indicate suicidal thoughts, that their son handed in.  Are we clear with teachers that this is their responsibility?  Are we clear as parents that we want to hear and act on the message if a teacher or principal calls?  And, if the school does make a call, are we clear as parents what resources are at our disposal to address the potential concerns of our child? Do we know the answers to this assignment?  Can we all use a lesson in mental health, or is this something that we simply must learn about in school?
Please take 10 minutes and listen to the story of Jack, his experience at Queen's university, and his father's bravery in sharing this deadly and heart-breaking life lesson:  Perhaps, together as a community we can educate and respond before this assignment is too late


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