School has started again and so I’m starting to work on my presentation for high school students that I originally talked about here. Thanks to a U.K. group called the Youth Mental Health Network, I stumbled across a story about a new mental health curriculum that is being rolled out for ninth graders across the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. Awesome stuff. The link for it is found here at Teen Mental Health.
When I eventually go out to speak to high school students, I’m going to be talking about what it’s like to live with a parent who has an undiagnosed mental illness – the confusion, the isolation, the shame, the daily verbal beat downs, all that gunk. I was lucky, because salvation arrived for me, and in the following order:
- I moved out in 1984, at age 15, then got caught shoplifting several months later
- The juvenile court liaison (thank you, whoever you were, pretty blond lady) said that to avoid criminal charges, I had to see a social worker (p.s. Barb Foulis, I’m trying to get in touch with you, to personally thank you)
- Social worker Barb was the second stable, supportive influence in my life (after my sister) and I spilled my guts to her. A lot. For three years.
I realize it’s funny to hear someone say that getting caught shoplifting was one of the best things that ever happened to them (thank you, Oscar, alert Shoppers Drug Mart store detective, looking so uninterested in your beige windbreaker) but for me, it was. My hope is that kids who are currently facing similar challenges don’t have to engage in theft or other risky behaviors in order to get noticed and get help.
Given that line of reasoning, without entering into the social services network, where might a student in need of counseling support—for their own mental health issues or that of a parent—find help?
The obvious answer is “at school,” yet, as the Teen Mental Health website states, “Schools are often challenged to deal with youth mental health, but are seriously under equipped and inadequately supported to handle this responsibility.”
Well, that needs to change, then, doesn’t it? (Thank you, Nova Scotia and Dr. Stan Kutcher, for your new initiative.)
I also found this paper on adolescent mental health in the U.S., created in 2009 by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. What struck me was that in their recommendations section, practically every bullet point starts with a call for federal or state government funding in order to do blah blah blah. Yes, it would be nice, but my guess is that it isn’t going to happen, so we better find ways to provide support to teens with our current resources at established channels (like high schools.) The curriculum that Nova Scotia is using is free for teachers, by the way.
Finally, most of what I’ve seen on the internet talks about working with teens who have a mental illness. I haven’t seen much (almost nothing) that talks about working with teens who have a mentally-ill parent. Those teens may end up with a mental illness themselves, such as depression, or they may act out their issues by engaging in risky, self-destructive behaviors, which brings us full circle back to the thing we’re trying to avoid. I’m definitely starting to feel like I’ve identified a gap.
To help hone my approach on this topic, I need help (again!) I would like to hear from current (or recent) high school teachers, to get information on what kind of support is/was available in their school.
- Do the teachers receive mental health training?
- Do the school counselors provide mental health support, or are/were they strictly career focused (like mine was)?
- How often are the teen’s issues rooted in the mental illness of a parent?
- Are these issues a topic of discussion within your school? And how are things going with that?
- Anything else you care to contribute
If being candid will endanger your job, please comment anonymously, or send me a confidential email using the contact form on this website.
Of course, everyone’s comments are appreciated, as I’m sure there are many non-teacher people out there who have experience with this topic, too.
Together, we will make progress (thank you, cool people out there who want to help.)