Max Sterry

Max Sterry

Students find their ‘Voice’

This year's BC Student Voice Okanagan Forum took a look at the difficult topic of teen suicide

BC Student Voice representatives took on a difficult topic, Teen Suicide, and came up with some constructive suggestions.

Representatives to the BC Student Voice Okanagan Forum held at the Schubert Centre will have their comment forwarded to the provincial forum and then to the Ministry of Education where it will be considered in policy decisions.

“Every year, I’m amazed at what these students have to tell us on the topics, what we are doing right and what else we have to do,” said Malcolm Reid, Fulton secondary school principal and Okanagan Student Voice teacher representative, as he welcomed the representatives.

Fulton secondary student Jon Kohut explained to the students why it is so important that they have this opportunity to speak out on their concerns.

“It’s incredible. Student Voice has given me the opportunity to be able to talk openly about student problems with like-minded people,” he said. “This (suicide) is a massive topic that we do deal with in school and everyday life and we can work together to make school and our lives better.”

The students broke into smaller groups to write their ideas in response to the first question, “Why is the topic of suicide and mental illness untalkable? Why do you think we are talking about it today?”

Some of the student responses:

“People don’t want to think that their words and actions might bring someone to the point where they would rather take their own lives than survive (response to reports of some students committing suicide after various kinds of bullying).”

“Everyone knows someone who has been suicidal or has lost someone to suicide.”

“People need to speak out instead of hide and be quiet.”

“Social media does not take the problem seriously.”

The representatives then watched a video of Kevin Breel of Vancouver, a teen talking about his struggles with depression and near suicide.

“Depression is not just normal sadness, real depression is being sad when things are going right in your life,” he said. “Every 30 seconds somewhere in the world, someone takes their own life because of depression. I was depressed and there was a lot of fear and shame and stigma. I thought the only way out was suicide.

“We are so accepting of every body part breaking down except the brain. Depression is a sickness and we can’t expect to find answers about depression and suicide if we’re still afraid to ask the questions.” See the whole video and other similar ones at

The second question for discussion was, “What kind of support services are available for students who are struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts? List ones which are helpful and not helpful and why.”

The students agreed that school counselors, because of their training and experience, and teachers, because of their concern for students, could be the best resource or make things worse.

“Counselors can really help but being known to be talking to a counselor could cause some people to start rumours that you have problems.”

“Counselors and teachers would keep your confidentiality but they might treat you differently in what course and programs you could do.”

Johnny Roy of Rutland secondary said he and fellow student Joey Fedircuk started Beyond the Herd/Can I Help You?, an anti-bullying awareness for their school and local middle-schools. His pink Can I Help You? T-shirt indicates to other students that those wearing them are open to talking and helping find solutions.

“We’re getting really good feedback, and response is growing. We want to show that RSS cares and we want this to spread to other schools,” said Roy.

Reid applauded the students’ responses.

“This is the honesty we need to go forward with this project,” he told them.

Guest speaker Shelley Green, president of the BC Principals and Vice-Principals Association, spoke on Having Difficult Conversations.

“We all often hold back on having those difficult conversations, on all topics, in all kinds of relationships. But there are skills we can learn to help make things easier,” she said. “Frame, focus on the issue, prepare the script; make a feeling statement and let them know that you want to find a solution to the issue.”

She led the students through practice conversations and discussed the outcomes with them, challenging them to use the skills and frame with their own difficult conversations.

The students went on to discuss support services and talk about actions plans for their schools.