My daughter suffers from anxiety. When she hit puberty, I wrote off her changes in behaviour to puberty and hormones. It was a Child and Youth Worker at her school that labelled it correctly and guided us to resources when she went into crisis. I am grateful that she had access to someone at the school that knew the warning signs and where to direct us.
The latest changes to the Health and Physical Education curriculum (and let’s call it by its proper name, not the Media’s term, “Sex Ed curriculum”) extends mental health literacy from paraprofessionals to teachers so they can discuss emotional, social and mental health with their students and provide them information about community resources. School boards have been given funding to employ a mental health lead to oversee mental health programs in schools. Both are positive steps to help children with mental health issues. But a vital group is missing from this equation. If the provincial government wants to make a positive impact on children’s mental health, parents need this information too.
Why must parents have this knowledge too?
1 in 5 children have mental health issues in his/her lifetime, and 70% of mental health challenges have their onset before the age of 16. Knowing the warning signs of mental health challenges can lead to an earlier diagnosis and more successful treatment. While teachers are an excellent resource to help notice issues, parents know their children best. Change in behaviour, for example, is an important sign of changes in mental health. Parents may see these changes but not understand if it is a normal change or something that requires assistance/intervention. However, by knowing the signs to watch for, they can get an earlier diagnosis and understand the need for treatment.
From newsletters to email, websites and social media sites, the education system has systems in place to get information to parents. The Ministry of Health needs to partner with the Ministry of Education to take advantage of the schools’ communication network. Social media in particular would be an invaluable tool to share information from mental health organizations to parents that follow the school or school boards’ accounts. With direction from each school board’s mental health lead, schools and school boards can re-post and re-tweet accurate and helpful mental health education and community resource information; thus educating the very people who will have the most impact on a child’s mental wellbeing – the parent.
The old saying, “it takes a community to raise a child” is still true today. Our school helped my family. If existing communication networks in our schools are used to distribute mental health information, other families will have the information at hand when they need it most.