Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
A new provincial policy paper that calls for improved mental health support in schools was produced, in part, by three young Stratford women who continue to advocate for better understanding and access to support services.
Titled Building a Better School Environment for Youth with Mental Health and Addiction Issues, the paper was penned by members of Children's Mental Health Ontario's (CMHO) Youth Action Committee, including co-chair Caitlin Robb (who was lead author on the document), Bri Parks, and Emily Campbell.
The three women were a part of last week's second annual Resiliency Dinner hosted by the Huron-Perth Centre for Children and Youth, the counties' lead organization for mental health treatment and assessment services, with offices in Stratford, Listowel and Clinton.
Parks shared with guests details about a friend whose struggles with mental illness at home and at school – where she sometimes was the target of insensitive remarks – proved too much. The friend eventually committed suicide.
The new policy paper Parks helped develop comes with recommendations like better communication between students and teachers, and having a "safe room" for students who just need a break, that she hopes might help prevent another tragedy like she witnessed.
"I'd like to think that had some of these recommendations been in place, and there were mental health awareness throughout schools, maybe (my friend) could have felt more comfortable and not as embarrassed to ask for the help she needed," Parks added. "It is crucial to implement as many of these recommendations as possible to benefit others struggling and make them more aware of the support offered."
Speaking with the Gazette, Huron-Perth Centre CEO, Terri Sparling, said it's important youth battling with mental illness get the same kind of support at school as they do in their personal lives. Without it, "it's basically one step forward and two steps back."
The policy paper, which is available at www.cmho.org, is well written and creative, but most importantly, it "offers concrete, practical recommendations that don't cost money," Sparling said.
It's no secret that funding levels for mental health services in Ontario have failed to keep pace with program costs. And while that isn't likely to change anytime soon, for the first time in a while professionals in the field like Sparling have reason to believe the province is listening.
Since late 2012, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has been working to develop a new framework for services that is expected to standardize care and improve access for families no matter where they live in the province. Perhaps more importantly, it will give organizations like the Huron-Perth Centre the freedom to consolidate funding lines and place resources where they are most needed.
"I am optimistic that over the next year we're going to see a change in our waiting (lists)," Sparling said, noting between the three offices there are currently over 100 families waiting for treatment, the majority of whom are in Stratford.
Sparling credits the youth voice, both locally and provincially, for helping bring about the long-overdue changes that the mental health system is currently undergoing, including placing greater emphasis on collaboration between community agencies like hospitals, family health teams, and pediatricians.
Sparling said agencies in Huron and Perth counties already have "a fabulous track record of working collaboratively to try to make the best of the little bits we have."
Last week's dinner, held at the Queen's Inn, doubled as a CD release party for Beyond the Abyss, a new release co-produced by local advocates Parks and Campbell. All proceeds from CD, which features area artists singing about mental illness, will go to support the CMHO's Youth Action Committee. The album costs $10 and is available at the Huron-Perth Centre office in Stratford.
Last week the centre also launched its Gimme 5 fundraising campaign, which encourages people to give up five minutes of their time to learn about five areas of service at the centre that could be enhanced with additional funding.