‘Cri­sis’ of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety in schools high­lighted by per­former

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Kyle Smylie

On Tues­day last week the Robb Nash band per­formed in the gym­na­sium at St. An­thony’s, brought in by the school to speak to stu­dents about de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and sui­cide.

At one point, in front of a gym­na­sium full of high school stu­dents from St. An­thony’s and DVSS, Nash reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of white pa­pers.

“Th­ese are some of the sui­cide notes that stu­dents have given me in just the last two weeks we’ve been tour­ing in Canada,” Nash said, hold­ing the pa­pers up in the air.

By the time the lineup of stu­dents wait­ing to speak to him fi­nally cleared out of the gym over an hour af­ter the event ended, Nash had a stack of ra­zor blades and seven more sui­cide notes, adding to the many hun­dreds he has re­ceived from stu­dents over the years he’s toured schools.

“I’ve been think­ing about re­laps­ing af­ter be­ing 4 months clean,” wrote one of many at­ten­dees who posted on Nash’s In­sta­gram af­ter the show, “but af­ter I got to talk to U and see your show I feel like I can be strong.”

“It’s a cri­sis,” says DVSS Prin­ci­pal Cur­tis LaPierre, who bussed over 200 of his high school stu­dents to St. An­thony’s to see Nash. “I have kids here that are par­a­lyzed due to anx­i­ety, who are not func­tional. And with it comes drug re­lated is­sues, cut­ting, sui­cide, al­co­holism.”

It’s not an iso­lated trend. Sui­cide rates were up 30 per cent in Al­berta in 2015 com­pared to 2014, ac­cord­ing to a late 2015 re­port, with com­men­ta­tors mak­ing con­nec­tions with the re­cent re­ces­sion and oil­field lay­offs, and men­tal health is­sues in schools have been no­tice­ably on the rise in re­cent years. LaPierre, who has been teach­ing for al­most 30 years, says men­tal health is­sues are sig­nif­i­cantly more preva­lent than what they used to be.

“We do every­thing we can. We have three coun­sel­lors here and they are run off their feet. But the sup­port in the prov­ince in re­gards to men­tal health are sig­nif­i­cantly lack­ing in com­par­i­son to the sup­port for phys­i­cal ill­nesses. We’re of­ten not equipped for se­vere cases.”

“There isn’t enough sup­port now, for us,” agrees St. An­thony’s Prin­ci­pal JoAnne Aker­boom, whose school ar­ranged the Robb Nash visit.

“It seems to be a pretty heavy topic now, and given our eco­nomic con­di­tions, peo­ple are un­der more stress and anx­i­ety and it causes is­sues for every­body.”

“Some­times there are limited re­sources in small, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, so there is a con­cern about work­ing to­gether with the com­mu­nity to find greater men­tal health sup­ports for the prob­lems in our own com­mu­nity,” says Aker­boom.

There has been in­creased eco­nomic sup­port from the prov­ince, with metal health ef­forts in the prov­ince re­ceiv­ing a $10-mil­lion boost in the pro­vin­cial bud­get un­veiled in Oc­to­ber, but re­ac­tion has

It's a cri­sis. I have kids here that are par­a­lyzed due to anx­i­ety, who are not func­tional." Cur­tis LaPierre, DVSS Prin­ci­pal

been slower than the needs of schools in treat­ing men­tal health is­sues.

“The schools do not have ad­e­quate pro­to­cols es­tab­lished and enough de­tails around sup­port,” said LaPierre, who said Golden Hills School Divi­sion of­fers as­sess­ments with cer­ti­fied psy­chi­a­trists, but con­sul­ta­tions are held in Strath­more only once a week and are of­ten booked back-to-back with stu­dents. The schools do con­sult with Al­berta Men­tal Health to get psy­cho­log­i­cal and psy­chi­atric as­sis­tance, but of­ten the bureau­cracy, wait times, and travel dis­tances leave sui­ci­dal or de­pressed stu­dents wait­ing when they are in cri­sis and can­not af­ford to wait.

“It’s got to be deeper than what we cur­rently have.”

LaPierre said school staff mon­i­tor stu­dent be­hav­iour and meet of­ten to dis­cuss trends or dif­fer­ences they no­tice in cer­tain stu­dents, not­ing things such as missed classes or losses in fam­ily, and most of­ten are tipped off to a stu­dent’s con­cern­ing be­hav­iour by friends or other stu­dents.

But there is only so much staff can do, and stu­dents are of­ten re­luc­tant to un­veil their dark­est thoughts, es­pe­cially to a teacher.

“Teach­ers can be in­tim­i­dat­ing to talk to,” said DVSS high schooler Jes­sica Fer­nando, who has no­ticed the anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion that grips some of her class­mates. “It’s hard be­cause peo­ple put up a façade un­less they re­ally trust you. But there are a lot of great teach­ers here who try to bring in speak­ers, which can be help­ful.”

Fer­nando is part of the Drumheller Con­nec­tions lead­er­ship pro­gram at DVSS, which re­cently de­signed a mu­ral for one of the li­brary walls, a tree with virtues writ­ten along its branches and mes­sages of self-worth self-en­cour­age­ment that were hand­writ­ten on pa­per and hung by dozens of stu- dents.

As for why de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety have be­come such a prom­i­nent is­sue in schools, Fer­nando thinks stu­dents “are bom­barded with images and ex­pec­ta­tions from so­ci­ety that’s thrown at us by so­cial me­dia, like the Kar­dashi­ans and mu­sic videos and things like that, you know. I think we as a group (Con­nec­tions) chose self worth and lov­ing your­self as the is­sue to tackle be­cause of this. If you re­ally pay at­ten­tion, you can al­ways see the best in peo­ple, even if they’re strug­gling.”

“There are all kinds of sug­ges­tions and rea­sons as to why,” says Aker-

There are all kinds of sug­ges­tions and rea­sons as to why. Peo­ple talk of tech­nol­ogy, eco­nomic con­di­tions, bul­ly­ing, but there’s not one thing you can put your fin­ger on and say “this is it”.” JoAnne Aker­boom Prin­ci­pal, St. An­thony’s School

boom, “peo­ple talk of tech­nol­ogy, eco­nomic con­di­tions, bul­ly­ing, but there’s not one thing you can put your fin­ger on and say ‘this is it.’”

“There is some cor­re­la­tion with screen­time, so­cial me­dia, and me­dia in gen­eral,” says LaPierre, “me­dia es­tab­lishes a fear­ful mind­set that al­lows anx­i­ety to grow, along with so­cial me­dia be­ing a medium of com­par­i­son with oth­ers and an am­pli­fi­ca­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment around them.”

“It’s an epi­demic and it’s on the rise,” says Velma Peake of St. Luke’s Outreach Cen­tre in Drumheller, who feels there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween the dif­fer­ent me­dial bod­ies in the prov­ince in pro­vid­ing treat­ment to sui­ci­dal pa­tients.

“The triage for men­tal health has to be bet­ter. And the con­nec­tion be­tween the gen­eral prac­ti­tion­ers and men­tal health work­ers is not healthy.”

Peake, in con­junc­tion with staff at St. An­thony’s and DVSS, is lead­ing a Drumheller ini­tia­tive to start the con­ver­sa­tion on men­tal health here in this com­mu­nity. A pub­lic meet­ing is sched­uled for Tues­day, April 19 at the Drumheller Pub­lic Li­brary’s Pro­gram Room at 6 p.m. to ar­range a fo­cus group to dis­cuss anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion dis­or­ders and the ram­pant rise of th­ese dis­or­ders in Drumheller.

“Drum hell er as a com­mu­nity is lack­ing in re­sources, so let’s start the con­ver­sa­tion to see what we can find.”

If you or some­one you know is suf­fer­ing and needs to talk, the Al­berta Men­tal Health Help Line is 1-877-3022642 and of­fers con­fi­den­tial, anony­mous ser­vice for cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion and in­for­ma­tion about men­tal health pro­grams and ser­vices.

mailphoto by Kyle Smylie, photo sub­mit­ted

The Robb Nash band was brought into St. An­thony’s last Tues­day to speak to stu­dents of that school and DVSS about de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and sui­cide. Nash is known for invit­ing stu­dents in giv­ing him their sui­cide let­ters, and takes pledges from stu­dents over so­cial me­dia that they’ll stop self-harm­ing (inset).

photo sub­mit­ted

The Robb Nash Band per­forms in front of stu­dents at St. An­thony’s. The per­former was brought in to to ad­dress men­tal health and con­fi­dence is­sues in stu­dents.

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