Last week marked the sixth year of the Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign to raise awareness about mental health. Regardless of whether you think the campaign creates less stigma or not, talking about mental health and getting the topic out from the shadows creates space for all of us to engage in this most important issue. The campaign itself will not solve the problem of access or the high cost of treatment. Creative efforts like it, however, could do much to promote communal questions about how to support programs in anti-stigma, care and access, workplace health, and research.
Thankfully, small steps are happening to help our communities provide help for those who need it. One of the biggest hurdles is having a simple way to access people with whom you can have a conversation. Many churches have adopted a “CAP” program (Congregational Assistance Plan), which provides counselling for those who would like confidential, anonymous, professional assistance with qualified therapists. This program is run across Ontario by the Shalem Mental Health Network, located in Hamilton, Ontario. Some of our Christian schools have adopted a similar program for their students.
Canada is a leader in talking about workplace health. It has developed the Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (see link at end of paragraph). The underlying philosophy of the standard is to provide a framework to create and continually improve a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. We strive to make our Christian schools such places of organizational health, places where struggling staff and students are offered support and education during difficult times.
Each year, Edifide encourages both teachers and principals to become better educated on the issues of mental/psychological health not only for our students and their families but also for our workplaces, our colleagues and ourselves. One of the strands of learning at our upcoming annual convention will once again focus on mental health.
Many of us are used to focusing on healthy living as eating right, exercising regularly, being part of a faith community, getting enough sleep and having rest (or Sabbath) from our work. Deepening our awareness of psychological or mental health allows us to realize the importance of dealing with our issues (and we all have them) or making sense of our lives (no matter how dysfunctional). Every person deals with brokenness, grief, hurt, unhealthy relationships in some manner: this is a function of being human. Andy Crouch called it our “vulnerabilities.” As educators, we must have courage to face and talk about these things and to frame them as the normal things we deal with in life. We may seek healing and healthy approaches to our brokenness, but the wounds are often still there and the scars still visible. And yet, how do we move forward? How do we talk about our journeys? And where are safe places for us to tell our stories? Close friends, mentors, pastors, therapists and family members may all be possible solutions. As educators and leaders, we need to be wise about boundaries and confidentiality as we make sense of ourselves.
My hope for all of us is that we embrace our own brokenness in order to be healthy enough to help our students and our communities embrace theirs. The journeys are personal and unique, and yet creating frameworks where conversation about these important issues is encouraged will (I believe) allow our schools to become places of health, strength and flourishing.