Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Suicides among adolescents more than a school problem!

One in 10 young people say they have attempted suicide, and it is estimated that as many as 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness or disorders. Experts say that 70 per cent of these mental disorders can be diagnosed before the age of 25. Schools, they say, provide an ideal setting to identify and start treating children. (From the Alphonso/Cummins piece on education's approach to teen suicides, Globe and Mail, August 28, 2012, excerpted below)
While these numbers are startling, they are indicative of a much larger problem than the relationship of students to their schools. And, while the schools are an appropriate locus for confronting some of the thoughts, feelings attitudes and hopelessneses, we need to change how we think about, discuss and take responsibility for the kind of culture we are "providing" for everyone.
When the accumulation of dollars and the percs that those dollars can buy is the highest achievment we offer our children, we are committing a serious error in judgement. Especially when, inside the book with that cover on the outside, is the real story that we really don't seem to care for each other, and especially for those whose lives don't measure up to the high standards of financial, political and status goals that society considers appropriate. Education for dollars, for virtually all students, is a hollow and vaccuous pursuit. And most adolescents are not going to believe such a pursuit is going to provide meaning (in the Viktor Frankl sense of "meaning").
  • When the federal government bends and twists itself into another corporation, leaving the social issues and the human beings in the land struggling more on their own than at any time in the last century, and
  • when the provincial governments champion another factory rather than another artistic, cultural or intellectual achievement of considerable proportions, and
  • when every town in Ontario sees its box-store parking lots filled and many of its downtown boutiques either empty or struggling, and the parking lots in that area filled only on special sale days, and
  • when the connection of both adults and children to projects that can be legitimately considered "good will" projects, in terms of serving a demonstrated and legitimate social need, and such projects have been replaced with part-time jobs, or for a few, athletic exercises, (both useful and worthy) but not without a community context,
  • when the service clubs and churches are literally evaporating, and along with them the kinds of connections, not based exclusively on dollars, competition and winners/losers as their primary purpose
  • and when the prospects for the kind of uber-earnings that come with "star" power in entertainment and athletics for the very few, seem dim at best and non-existent for the majority
  • and when teachers are more interested in their pensions than their lessons and their relationships with their students (not all, but too many!)
  • and when parents are clutching and grabbing for their own rung on the ladder of fiscal and social and political success, as measured once again by the accumulation of dollars
is it any wonder that students will face the question, "Can I do this anymore?" when the kind of "treatment" they witness through bullying and emotional violence of the invasions that are both possible and carried out on social media and in personal interactions. Where is the counter-evidence of compassion, caring, support and encouragement  that all children and adolescents (and even adults) need?
They have been ripped from the social fabric, by either the actions or the complicity of a social culture that serve "for the moment's gratification" and such a culture can and will only see more mental health and more suicides, notwithstanding the education sector's urgent attempts to stem that tide.

Teen suicides bring mental-health into the open
By Caroline Alphonso and Julianna Cummins, Globe and Mail, August 28, 2012

Deeply shaken by a series of teen suicides, the Peel District School Board hopes the four-minute dramatization will help address the still-taboo topic of mental health in a more open manner. It’s part of a small, but growing movement across Canadian schools to build education about mental health and suicide into the curriculum.

As the video continues, the young man’s missives are spotted by another teen, who replies with a message of her own. She sends the number for Kids Help Phone, then adds “#ChangeisComing #iPromise.”
The suburban board’s pro-active approach to mental health comes after a difficult academic year: Two of its high-school students died in what police called a murder-suicide, and three more teens at another school committed suicide.
One of the those teens, a 17-year-old Brampton student, mentioned suicide twice on a social-networking account just days before he died.
“We’re trying to take mental health out of the closet,” said Peel’s director of education Tony Pontes, “and see it as very real, see it as something that is affecting both our children’s well-being and their achievement, and also see it as something we can have an impact on.”
One in 10 young people say they have attempted suicide, and it is estimated that as many as 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness or disorders. Experts say that 70 per cent of these mental disorders can be diagnosed before the age of 25. Schools, they say, provide an ideal setting to identify and start treating children.
Nova Scotia will integrate a new mental-health program in its Grade 9 curriculum this year. Alberta will expand its mental-health strategy in Grades 4, 5 and 6 to junior-high students. The Ontario government has provided some funding for mental-health initiatives in schools. And the British Columbia Medical Association is linking with schools around mental-health projects.
Stanley Kutcher, an expert in adolescent mental health based in Halifax, said Canadian schools are starting to understand that good psychological health helps students learn. School health programs, he said, have always focused on physical education, sexuality and nutrition but mental health is starting to be included more.
“People are finally realizing that the brain is not disassociated from the body and that we have to look at the whole child together,” Dr. Kutcher said.
Peel’s focus on the issue is so strong that Mr. Pontes on Tuesday instructed a room full of school principals and administrators to lead talks on mental health in their classrooms. The video is just one part of the board’s strategy; it has also launched a new online resource for students, parents and staff that lists places they can turn to for help.
Mr. Pontes said the hope is that principals, teachers and school staff will develop relationships so that honest conversations can take place between students and trusted adults.
“We want every staff member to be aware and to be looking for children who are having difficulties,” he said. “We don’t expect our teachers and staff to be clinicians. What we want is for them to provide a caring, safe person that children can feel comfortable speaking to, and in that way, as we discover their story, then to make referrals to the appropriate people for support.”
Jim Van Buskirk, chief social worker for the board, said in the past, staff did the best they could do with the resources on hand. The new approach is much more coherent across the system, he said, and it forces schools to make mental health part of their mandate.
“There was a time many years ago when school boards wouldn’t have seen this to be their purview. Our job is to educate kids and that’s what we do,” Mr. Van Buskirk said. “There is a greater awareness now that life is much more complex and students spend five days a week with us.”
He added: “We’re in a terrific position to be aware of concerns and, when necessary, direct folks to the kind of services that might help them.”

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