It is very fitting that this year's theme for World Mental Health Day (Saturday, October 10) is "Move for mental health, let's invest."
Last year, the Northern Lights Public Schools Board of Trustees made a commitment to improving students' mental health and well-being by designating it as a division-wide priority in our 2019-2022 Three-Year Education Plan. This decision was based on feedback from our students, parents and staff that we needed to focus more on mental health. It was also backed by data - student surveys indicate that 31% of our students in grades 4-6 experience moderate to high anxiety, compared to the national norm of 22% Similarly, 32% of students in grades 7-12 say they experience moderate or high anxiety, compared to the national norm of 26%.
Our Mental Health and Wellness Plan outlines the actions we are taking as a division to improve the mental health and wellness of our students. This includes building the capacity of all of our staff to support the mental health needs of students, providing students at all schools with access to student advocacy counsellors, providing students with the skills and knowledge to support their own mental health and that of their peers, and engaging and supporting parents in building the mental health capacity of their children. We are also fortunate to have received a Mental Health Capacity Building project grant from Alberta Health Services to further enhance our plan by providing Wellness Coaches to work with our schools and families.
While we believe our plan is comprehensive and will help to improve student mental health and wellness, we do not have the resources or the mandate to address all of the mental health needs of our students. A key component of our Mental Health and Wellness Plan is working with community agencies and mental health service providers to support integrated mental health services for students. We have had great success in this area, and connected with many people who are passionate about youth mental health. However, the resources currently allocated to youth mental health often do not come close to addressing the needs.
As a Board, we are concerned about access to mental health services for our students and the impact that not addressing their mental health conditions will have on all aspects of their lives, including learning. We are also fearful of students not being able to access the help they need in a timely manner, especially in times of crisis.
So while our staff focus on improving student mental health and wellness in our schools, the NLPS Board will also continue to advocate for greater investment in youth mental health. That includes investing in mental health promotion, prevention, and care, including crisis services. We do not want to see young lives lost due to a lack of access to mental health services.
We encourage all of you to join us in advocating for improved access to mental health services for our youth - share your stories, get informed, send emails, and support agencies that provide mental health services to youth. Working together we can make a difference for our children and save lives.
NLPS Board of Trustees