Havergal College joined Canadians in recognizing Mental Health Awareness Week from May 7 to 13. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s campaign #GetLoud encouraged communities to start conversations to destigmatize mental illness. This year, Havergal’s Junior and Upper School marked the week by participating in meaningful initiatives designed to raise the profile of the important topic and create an open dialogue throughout the school.
Although Havergal offers resources to support students’ well-being year-round, through the Guidance Department, Wellness Centre and Student Support Team, the week was an opportunity to recognize mental health in a meaningful way. Alongside the school’s Jack.org, Health and Wellness Prefect Haley Walker, Grade 12, and School Captain Alex Rozenberg, Grade 12, planned several initiatives at the Upper School including a student-led panel discussion, reflective letter writing and Foot Loose Friday, an opportunity to relax and listen to live music in the Quad.
“Mental illness can be a difficult topic to talk about and often awareness is the missing piece,” says Rozenberg. For her, a focal point of the week was Upper School Prayers on Thursday, May 10, where a close friend and classmate shared her experience with mental illness. “It is important for young students who are experiencing similar issues to have role models to look up to, so they know they are not alone,” explains Rozenberg.
The CMHA states that mental health should not be defined by the absence or presence of illness and similar to our bodies, we can adopt preventative habits to care for our mind. Starting from a young age, the Junior School’s Learning Support Worker Jodi McGeown, and Learning Support Specialists Ashley Fawcett and Cheryl Mackinnon teach strategies to support students’ social and emotional well-being. Tools such as the zones of regulations help students recognize and cope with the range of feelings they experience throughout their day. “The younger students learn how to identify their emotions, the better equipped they will be as teenagers and adults to understand and manage their feelings,” explains McGeown.
The Junior School commenced the week by sharing various ways students tend to their own personal mental health at Prayers. From tapping into their creativity through art and music, to getting outside and enjoying time with family and friends, it was clear that the students already have an understanding of positive habits that can encourage a healthy mind. Participating in a discussion led by child psychiatrist Dr. Karen Wang, the Grade 5 and 6 students learned five additional approaches to reducing stress and anxiety: sleep, nutrition, exercise, facing your fears and friendship. “It is important to let kids know that it is okay to feel sad, while providing them with the tools and resources they need to cope with their emotions,” says MacKinnon.
“The resources we have at Havergal are quite abundant. The challenge is to get the word out there and change the way people view mental illness,” says Walker. “By engaging in a conversation surrounding mental health, we can begin to break the stigma,” she explains. Although the week came to a close, the dialogue and experiences exchanged by students helped to diminish some of the perceptions surrounding mental illness and provide students with tools and strategies for optimal well-being.