Students finding mental health support at high school
High school is a huge part of any teenager’s life. It takes up more than a thousand hours each year — learning in the classroom, playing sports, creating art, socializing, and thinking about the future. It’s an exciting time. But for some, it can be more challenging. For everyone, it’s a time to grow and learn about yourself.
It’s important for young people to find ways to navigate this world — and for parents and loved ones to know how to help them.
Amherst Regional High School is helping young people learn to navigate through what can come at this intense time in their lives.
The school offers a Youth Health Centre that offers programs and services to support student health needs — from sexual health, medical advice, counseling and more. It is staffed full time by a public health Youth Health Centre coordinator and has a physician available every two weeks.
“Youth aren’t always comfortable accessing health services,” said Michelle Richard, Youth Health Centre Coordinator at Amherst Regional High School. “Having this based within the school, an environment where they already feel safe, makes them more likely to reach out for the services they need for their physical and mental health.”
Outside of working with the students one on one, Michelle works with SchoolsPlus at Amherst Regional on programs and events, including two main projects. Voices is an empowerment program for girls in grades 7 to 12 that includes 18 sessions on topics ranging from addictions, relationships, families and preparing for their future. The Cumberland HEADSTRONG Summit brings students together to hear speakers share their stories of hope and recovery and engage students in activities to challenge their thinking. The summit aims to reduce stigma and improve mental health literacy in high schools across Cumberland County.
“SchoolsPlus and the Youth Health Centre complement each other. We can support students with accessing services to meet their needs. This is particularly important for those with complex challenges that require bringing several agencies together,” said Kim Wood, facilitator with Amherst SchoolsPlus. “Sometimes there are barriers for families to get the help they need, like transportation or economic issues. SchoolsPlus promotes non-government and government programs working together and make services more accessible for students, particularly those that are more vulnerable.”
Kim and Michelle also completed Go-To training, along with the school’s guidance counselor. In 2013, Dr. Stan Kutcher developed Go-To training which gives teachers in secondary schools the skills and knowledge to identify when students are struggling with mental health. “Because of Go-To, there is now consistent language in the school around mental health. It’s about knowing the difference between a mental health problem and a mental illness, and when a student should be referred to supports and services.”
Both Kim and Michelle want students and their families to know that these programs are there for them, whenever they are needed.
“Seeing the students grow is an amazing experience. I love what I do,” said Michelle. “By giving our youth the tools they need to deal with the challenges they face, we can help them reach a happier, healthier future.”
For more information about SchoolsPlus, visit https://schoolsplus.ednet.ns.ca/ .