BWDSB champions youth mental health leadership training

Bluewater District School Board is proud of its latest Youth Mental Health Champions! On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, approximately 185 Grades 7 to 10 students and staff from 20 schools convened at the Bayshore Community Centre in Owen Sound for mental health leadership training.

Moderated by local mental health advocate Jon Farmer, the day consisted of workshops and presentations facilitated by several community partners, including representatives from the Grey Bruce Health Unit, Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce, Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving, WES for Youth Online, The Grey Bruce We CARE Project, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, and St. John Ambulance.

A pair of Macphail Memorial Elementary School Youth Mental Health Champions helped to kick off the day by sharing highlights of their wellness oriented school initiatives. Examples of their efforts over the past year included “Kindness Counts” cards for students to publicly share their positive thoughts, a giving tree, and a campaign to help students make healthy drink choices, among other activities.

“My struggle makes me stronger.” A highlight of the day was keynote speaker and Paralympic champion Josh Cassidy of Port Elgin, whose accolades include numerous medals in world competitions and winning the Boston Marathon. Josh’s awe inspiring message focused on his personal journey as a survivor of childhood cancer, who was left partially paralyzed, and how he leveraged these challenges to build resiliency and pursue a dream of competing in Paralympic sports. His presentation emphasized the importance of positive thinking and the attitudes he adopted to overcome obstacles through passion, determination, time, and hard work. To wrap up his talk, students were led through a group meditation, which allowed them to experience the benefits of practicing mindfulness.

BWDSB Mental Health Lead Rene Langen shared details on the crucial mental health related conversations that are occurring at the board around the promotion of well-being, reducing stigma, and ensuring that local resources are available to support schools. Students learned that there is a distinct difference between ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’, but that the two are on a continuum and interconnected.

Youth health and wellness panel presentations on topics such as impaired and distracted driving, and guidelines for sleep/screen time/24 hour movement, provided students with ideas on ways in which to raise awareness and educate their peers. In-depth information was also shared on everyday mental health classroom activities for students to consider with a focus on the following areas: emotion identification; executive functioning: critical and creative thinking; positive motivation; relationship skills; self-confidence; and stress management: breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, letting go.

Spinning wheel for Vaping Trivia Challenge

Self-care break-out sessions in the afternoon offered hands-on activities in holistic art based therapy, a chance to participate in a mental health run/walk/talk group, and a workshop on the connection between nutrition and mental health.

To wrap up the day, brainstorming sessions and action planning empowered the new Youth Mental Health Champions with a wealth of ideas to bring back to their respective school communities.

Throughout the day, students benefited from a variety of resources and information displays provided by the participating partners, including St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs, a vaping trivia wheel, and a cannabis/alcohol Plinko style game.

The Youth Mental Health Champions training is another example of BWDSB’s commitment to its strategic priority to “ensure the well-being of students and staff in a safe supportive environment for teaching, learning and working” and its associated goal to “create conditions where students, staff, and parents/caregivers are comfortable and confident in seeking help and responding to student mental health and emotional well-being.” Youth Mental Health Champions, with the support of their lead teacher, will work to engage and lead their peers throughout the school year on various activities and events related to mental health and addictions.