Mental Health Week recently concluded. What has been done in schools, colleges and universities regarding the mental wellness of students?
Canada has recently celebrated Mental Health Week, May 2 – 8.
Every year since 1951, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has hosted Mental Health Week in the first full week in May, making 2022 the 71st year.
It is a Canadian tradition, with communities, schools and workplaces rallying to celebrate, protect and promote mental health.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, suicide was the leading cause of death among students between 15 – 20 years of age.
The theme this year was Empathy.
Sadly however, with not much visibility, and could have more aptly be given the moniker sympathy. Truth is, it’s a week (weak) that I am sure many do not even know exists.
However, this year recognizing the week and beyond is very salient to me for a few reasons. To start off, not only as a qualified mental health professional, but also one still involved in pedagogy, I see firsthand the stress and anxiety that heavily impacts Black students.
This month in particular, they are balancing all of their end-of-the-semester requirements with all of the other things in their lives — like jobs, family care among other things.
Prior to COVID-19 and certainly exasperated by it, we saw a steady increase in the need for mental health services as students struggled with mental wellness.
For many, they cannot articulate what exactly they are feeling — tired, no motivation, stressed or constantly anxious.
The outcomes are real though — lower grades, attendance issues, illnesses, dropping out and most terribly, suicidal ideations.
Mental health issues are not just affecting our college age students; I especially feel for our elementary and secondary school children as well.
They often have little agency over their lives and may find it even harder to articulate what they are feeling and experiencing without being told they are exaggerating or do not have anything to be stressed out about.
How are school boards and school authorities changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students?
What have they done, are doing, or intend to do especially in this post-pandemic era?
Widespread evidence of solutions in practice is missing. There was already a shortage of site-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues.
Additionally, although schools have clearly recognized the importance of mental health yet adequate resources are still lacking. Unless, there are more resources funneled into the educational system, we are going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board, and, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer also. Mental health is not One Size Fits All.
Like many other aspects of mental health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races.
They need counselors who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.
Teachers on account of their limited perspective have overlooked symptoms, minimized calls for help, and dismissed what they thought was just an attitude, because they lacked the knowledge and tools to understand how significant mental health is.
Again, May is Mental Health Awareness Week — perhaps before you did not know but now you do, and I hope that you take a moment to help promote a mentally well stronger Black community especially among our young.
Aleuta continua———- The struggle continues.