Mental Health and Wellness Day at SHS
Tim Brody - Editor
Mental health and wellbeing took centre stage at Sacred Heart School (SHS) on February 7.
Throughout the day, the school’s grade seven and eight students engaged in sessions ranging from body image, to relationships, social media, drugs and coping, as well activities such as yoga, sports, music and cooking.
Later in the afternoon, students participated in sharing circles and outdoor activities.
“We wanted to be proactive in providing a fun, engaging day for our intermediate students with a focus on mental health. Through the sessions, we wanted to teach some important content while also introducing students to the supports and resources they have access to in Sioux Lookout. It is our hope that students will draw on these strategies and supports if needed,” explained special education resource teacher Emily Hamilton, who helped coordinate the Mental Health and Wellness Day.
“Our students had sessions with Firefly, the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre, and Northwestern Health Unit. We had the OPP in doing a session. We had our mental health and addictions nurse in… just to explore the idea of wellness and mental health and give them some takeaways on some coping strategies, some ways to manage stress, and really just provide them with proactive mental health and wellness strategies for their daily lives,” Hamilton added.
She further commented of the day, “It’s actually a board initiative. With each of our schools in our school board, we’ve been trying to take on projects of wellness, so it looks different at each school in our board.”
Coordinators of the event brainstormed topics relevant to grade seven and eight students and invited community partners into the school to share with students.
Teachers and staff also conducted sessions with students during the day.
Firefly counsellors George Hoggarth, Lisa Bailey and Krista Marshall visited the school to conduct sessions during the morning.
“I was asked to talk about, it was titled body image for boys, but I didn’t exactly stick to that topic. What we talked about was what I call the Male Box, the fact that certain behaviors, ways of dressing, activities, are not usually considered to be acceptable male behavior and so on… I was trying to tease out from the grade seven and eight’s some of the behaviors, and dress and ways of being that they consider to be sort of on the edge of that box,” Hoggarth said. “We talked about the idea that a lot of males have been brought up or socialized not to show their emotions and they don’t find it as easy to express their feelings. One of the things that I was trying to promote was for the guys to find people they’re comfortable talking too, to learn how to identify their emotions and share their feelings. It was kind of about expanding the box a little bit… one of the things I talked about was celebrating diversity.”
He added, “In the morning, with the grade seven and eight girls, they (Bailey and Marshall) talked about what we call mental wellness. What we did in those groups was we talked about… the ability to enjoy live, resilience, balance and self-actualization… we talked about stress and how stress can be good if it motivates you, but not so good if it overwhelms you… so, helping kids to realize that sometimes there’s a real need to be able to manage your stress, because if you don’t, it can affect you in various ways. It can affect your ability to think clearly and recall information because that part of the brain sort of shuts down
Identifying and managing stress was also discussed with the grade seven and eight boys.
Body image for the grade seven and eight girls was covered by The Northwestern Health Unit.
Hoggarth further informed of the sessions about stress, “… the final part of that session was we shared with them, and we got them to share with us, healthy ways of coping with stress. We talked about getting enough sleep, being physically active, healthy eating, things like listening to music or playing a musical instrument, being in nature – going for walks.”
Firefly counsellors provided students with various resources, including apps, that they can go on to learn about managing their stress and managing their wellness.
“We were very impressed with the effort that had been made to organize this day and we were really happy to get out among the students and talk about wellness because it’s something that I think we need to do more talking about,” Hoggarth said. “It was a great opportunity to open the door to more discussions about that. We left the teachers with, sort of a wellness plan that students can fill out what they can do to ensure that they take care of their mental wellness.”
Andrea Degagne of the Sioux Lookout OPP visited the school and shared, “I was delighted to be asked to speak on behalf of the Ontario Provincial Police at Sacred Heart’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Day. It was a fantastic opportunity to speak with the Grade 7 and 8 students about social media and cyber security, and address issues of cyber bullying, identity theft, and online safety. The students were incredibly receptive and knowledgeable about safety issues surrounding posting images and messages online. They caught me up with the many advancements in computer technology, social media apps, and online gaming that are being accessed by our youth.”
She continued, “The main take-home from this presentation is to use social media wisely;
T.H.I.N.K. before sending or sharing – is what you are sharing Hurtful, Illegal, Necessary, Kind? – Be aware that laws are applicable in the cyber world, and that you are accountable for everything that you post. Search your name regularly online so you know what is out there about you. Use secured internet connections and create strong passwords that are memorable to yourself but nobody else. Beware of online hackers, predators and scammers.”
“Some resources we mentioned were: The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre 1-888-495-8501 – where Online and phone scams can be reported, www.kidshelpphone.ca, www.NeedHelpNow.ca, www.ProtectKidsOnline.ca, and www.cybertip.ca”.
Victor Lyon and Shannon Bowcock from the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre also attended the Mental Health and Wellness Day.
“Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre was asked to take part in the Sacred Heart School grade 7/8 wellness day and spent some time deciding what this could look like. In the end, NGFC decided to offer teachings and an activity around the four areas of the medicine wheel, mental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, spiritual wellbeing and physical wellbeing,” Lyon shared.
Lyon opened Friendship Centre staff’s time with the students with a Sun Song and some teachings around the medicine wheel, which he explained included teaching of the parts of the wheel, all the medicines, the seasons, the races, different phases of life, and the areas of wellbeing.
“From here, the group broke into groups to take part in an activity for each of the areas of wellness. One group completed further medicine teachings with me and shared a smudge in order to support their spiritual wellbeing. One group took part in a traditional game called snow snakes outside to support the need to physical wellbeing, and two groups paired together with Shannon to read and discuss the legend of the dreamcatcher and learn about and complete a sharing circle.
“The sharing circle is for self-reflection and emotional wellbeing, while the knowledge received from the legend extended knowledge for mental wellbeing. Overall, NGFC left feeling the youth had been engaged, they had taken part and left with some new or revived knowledge. It was a great to see the sparks of interest in learning more about self-wellness and different activities that can help them with this. It was also great to see the teachers sitting in with the youth and taking part as well.”
“We’re actually partnering with the Friendship Centre for some follow up activities within the classrooms, which is really exciting. The Friendship Centre is going to continue on with some of their programing,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said she was impressed with how the day went, “I think they were getting some good feedback from the kids. They’re opening up and sharing with each other some strategies that they gravitate towards.”
Safe spaces were provided to students over the course of the day.
“We let the kids know, before starting the day, that they have that option if they need a breakaway from their group or if they need a safe place to go to talk to someone; that is always possibility,” Hamilton informed.
Hamilton further reflected, “What I noticed that was surprising was the attitudes and the spirit that came out from the kids in the sessions. They kind of walk into the session hesitant and not knowing what to expect, but then they come out a little bit lighter, like it was meaningful for them.
“We asked the students to start this day with an open mind and an open heart, to reflect on their own practices and find ways to apply what they are learning today going forward. I think that we’ve done that,” Hamilton commented.
She concluded, “We have had great feedback from our community partners. Although the event may not look the same in the future, the day has definitely sparked conversation and activities with our community partners. For example, our Elder Victor and Shannon will be working more regularly with our intermediate students. Firefly felt the classroom sessions were really effective, and have left our students with a self-care plan to complete. As a school, it would be great to see a Wellness Day planned for younger students, with tailored sessions to target the needs of those age groups.”
Mental Health and Wellness Resources
provided by Firefly