Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Parents and faculty get a lesson in mental health

Parents and faculty get a lesson in mental health

Can you tell the difference between a healthy amount of stress and an anxiety disorder? What about the difference between the sadness stemming from a difficult life event and a depressive disorder?

The ability to tell the difference is known as mental health literacy and the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division is taking steps towards increasing that knowledge across the school division.

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a leading expert in child and adolescent mental health from Dalhousie University, travelled to St. Albert on Jan. 17 and 18 to speak with parents and host a workshop for members of the school division.

“We want to make sure that those young people who have a mental disorder have rapid access to effective care because we know that when that happens their outcomes, both short term and long term are way better,” Kutcher said.

Kutcher said that parents may struggle to spot the difference between a disorder and regular adolescent stress, but there are a few red flags that will appear to signal the need for medical intervention. If parents notice many difficulties that are more intense than expected and last much longer than expected then Kutcher said it is time to seek medical help. If an adolescent is having difficulty functioning well Kutcher recommends parents seek out a qualified mental health professional through the recommendation of a family physician.

Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division Superintendent David Keohane said his team was eager to bring Kutcher in to speak with parents and members of the school division to further help students struggling with mental health.

“He made a very strong point that in society we are immensely confusing the phenomenon of toxic stress with positive stress,” Keohane said. “That we see stressors in a student’s life and we jump to a conclusion that it’s a negative phenomenon.”

In Kutcher’s address to parents on Tuesday night at École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d'Youville, he said that there is no such thing as a stress-free life and highlighted how important it is not to “pathologize a normal life experience.”

There are many experiences in life that will and should be stressful, such as writing a test or moving to a new country and Kutcher said experiencing that stress does not signal a mental health disorder.

The school division plans to take what they learned in the day-long workshop and integrate aspects of it into their already existing framework for supporting and treating students struggling with mental health.

Kutcher said there are four steps to help prevent and manage stress in students. To maintain good mental health, students must eat a healthy balanced diet, get 30 minuets of intense exercise five times a week, get eight to nine hours of sleep a night and cultivate close interpersonal relationships.

Keohane said the school division already has a program that focuses on healthy eating and they plan to use the new information they picked up in Kutcher’s workshop to create more programs to help support mental health. Keohane said his staff will take the rest of the year to build the new programs based on Kutcher’s workshop and students will see the results in September 2017.

Kutcher is currently working with Alberta Education to create a province-wide curriculum to increase mental health literacy and integrate programs that support mental health.

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