Conference encourages students to talk about mental illness
Six students from Milo and Arrowwood Community Schools have a new appreciation of mental illness and a stronger sense of how to help others who are struggling thanks to the Headstrong Youth Anti-Stigma Summit held in Calgary earlier this month.
The students joined peers from across the province at Mount Royal University. Organized by the Mental Health Commission of Canada specifically for First Nations, Métis and rural students, the summit focused on open dialogue, encouragement, and the tools needed to confront mental health stigma.
Lanie Many Bears, a Grade 8 student from Milo Community School, said she was most impressed by speakers who shared their stories of depression or addiction.
“These people went through hard stuff, but they got through it,” Many Bears says.
For Amiya Yellow Old Woman, a Grade 9 student from Arrowwood Community School, a key message was to get help when you need it.
“Everybody has mental issues and the thing that kind of stood out is there are ways to help you if you’re suffering,” Yellow Old Woman says. “You have to keep going forward and don’t hold back. Don’t keep everything to yourself.”
She says she now feels more confident that she could reach out to someone for help if she was struggling.
Milo teacher Jared Munton, who accompanied the students to the conference, said he’s encouraged that the stigma and silence about mental illness are breaking down.
“For me the most impressive part was just how open the kids were to talking about these issues,” he says. “They were open to discussing this and open with their ideas. It was refreshing to see."
Like the students, he says the individuals sharing their stories of struggling with mental health issues was “very inspiring.”
Yellow Old Woman and two other students from Arrowwood talked about how they might share information about mental health and wellness with the rest of their school. They’ve created a Headstrong committee and held their first meeting at school to discuss how to keep the anti-stigma message spreading.
The students plan to make classroom presentations to the school’s Grade 4 through 9 classes to talk about the messages they heard at the conference. She said her school is already “like a big family,” and students look out for one another.
Many Bears says Milo school also has an inclusive culture. Every student in the Grade 1-9 school is part of a “Star Team,” taking part in twice monthly activities that relate to character development or just plain fun.
“They work together,” she says. “It’s very important. We don’t want people to be left out.”
Aside from encouraging student involvement and belonging, Many Bears says she sees herself as a leader who will stand up for others, offering the kind of support that can make a meaningful difference to those who are struggling with depression or other mental illnesses.
“I can show them what I do so they can be a leader to other people,” she says.