What does it mean to be “mentally healthy”?
The school boards in London have challenged their students with this question, in the form of a contest.
The “Mentally Healthy Schools – Student Voice Contest” invites students from junior kindergarten to grade 12 to reflect on what it would look like if their school was mentally healthy.
The Thames Valley District School Board and London District Catholic School Board have orchestrated this contest for several years.
Gail Lalonde is the Mental Health Lead at TVDSB and explains how the school boards want to educate their students on the difference between mental health and mental illness.
“The messaging can get confusing in the media and people begin to think that mental health and mental illness are one in the same. It often gets missed that while 1 in 5 people have a diagnosed mental illness, 5 in 5 have mental health. We really try and promote that with students so that they can take control and know that they create communities of support for themselves to really be well and be available for learning.”
Students can express their thoughts in various forms. Over the years, students have submitted artwork, performed an original song, or written essays. Lalonde has seen the talent of these young individuals time and time again, and admires that each school can focus on a specific theme.
“Some schools focus on inclusion, some focus on stigma reduction, and some focus on everyday practices for wellbeing. The nice thing is that they have free reign over what speaks to them.”
But the impact goes deeper than the contest and the awards.
The school boards have been able to revolutionize the conversation around mental health within their schools and amongst their students, because of the feedback they have received from this contest.
The way that mental health was being addressed within schools in the past was not registering with students. But because of initiatives like this contest, Lalonde and her colleagues have been able to adjust the messages that students are shown daily with the ideas they have gained from none other than the students themselves.
“Traditionally when students would see posters about mental health, it would be depicting something dark and somebody very depressed. What the students have really shared with us is that those types of things don’t help them. What is helpful to them is seeing messages of hope and inspiration.”
While students may find it easy to get lost in the system, Lalonde and her colleagues want these young individuals to recognize the significant potential they possess to make a lasting difference.
“More than anything we want the students to know that they can have impact and what they share and what they create actually does change the system.”