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Vernon schools see rise in students struggling with mental health

Plans to initiate more mental health and wellness supports are in the works
(Black Press Media files)

Students in Vernon need more help.

Since the pandemic, there has been a notable uptick in students seeking mental health support or opting to skip school altogether in School District 22 (SD22).

“We don’t have any hard facts of data or numbers on the rise with attendance or mental health, but we do know that we are getting more referrals from our school-based team,” said Christine Love, the director of instruction and student support services for SD22.

Natashia Bacchus, the new district mental health liaison, explained that school-based teams are a conversation in which teachers can discuss their concerns for a student and form a plan to provide necessary support with district staff.

Bacchus also laid out some of the main reasons she thinks student well-being has taken a dive.

“I would say one of the things is that coming through the pandemic where students were out of school for a period of time many of them were isolated,” said Bacchus. “They spent more time at home, more time on technology.”

Bacchus also cited getting back into the regular in-person school routine as a common struggle, saying that redeveloping those habits can be challenging for some.

On the tech side, Bacchus said it is both a positive and a negative that students have more access to information than the generations before them, and that being overly connected to the world can present negative impacts, and isn’t always safe for all youth to be consuming.

Love and Bacchus are working together to implement initiatives that can better support students across all schools and Grades K to 12.

“I think our schools are very good at reacting to the needs of students. So, like developing a connections program, supporting students with counselling supports,” Love said.

“We work with our outside agencies to connect students with any resources in the community that might be beneficial to support the student, and we work with the parents.”

While social media, awkward puberty stages and navigating friendships between the ages of 13-17 can present their own challenges, Vernon’s secondary schools are equipped with school counsellors to provide guidance and support as much as possible should students seek it out.

On average, there are approximately 850 students in each secondary school in the district. Some have more, some less. Only one high school in SD22 has more than two school counsellors, with three counsellors available at Vernon Secondary School—to share 930 students. This means that for every counsellor in any of the five secondary schools in SD22, there are approximately 350 students designated to them.

“I would say that our counsellor ratios within our high schools are normal levels that other school districts would have as well,” said Love.

Love said that the support systems in all Vernon schools are layered, however, school counsellors are only a strand of the web of support programs offered.

“One of the things we’ve done over the last couple of years is developing a connections program in each of our high schools,” she said.

“We also do things to support the students’ mental health by taking them out in the community. To give back to the community, by doing regular fitness activities, taking them out hiking, they’ve done snow shovelling for seniors.”

Vernon schools also have specific resource teachers, contracts with Interior Health to offer substance use support and an Indigenous student support program that runs year-round, not just in academic sessions. Love and Bacchus also work to ensure there are programs available to connect students with opportunities in line with their passions, and there will be a classroom curriculum discussing mental health coping skills in the next school year.

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