MONASTERY: High school students from across the Strait area arrived here on November 17 for a day-long summit on increased awareness and discussion of mental health issues among young adults.
Six schools within the Strait regional school board (SRSB) have joined Jack.org, a national organization designed to reduce stigma and promote conversation regarding mental health at the high school and university levels, over the past two years. A combined 60 members of the six Jack.org teams, including the host team from East Antigonish Academy and Education Centre (EAAEC), joined forces at the Monastery school site for what is believed to be the first such regional high school summit for the national organization.
Launched in 2010 by the parents of Jack Windeler, who committed suicide midway through his first year at Ontario’s Queens University, the Jack.org movement took hold in the SRSB when students at Guysborough Academy/Chedabucto Education Centre developed the Blue Shoelaces campaign for National Mental Health Week. The initiative proved such a hit in Guysborough that Jack.org is now preparing to launch a national Blue Shoelaces campaign, according to Christina Williams, an organizer of last week’s regional summit.
“Their community really bought into it – they had pictures of all the fire department and other community groups wearing blue shoelaces,” said Williams, a Public Health nurse who is also the youth health nurse at EAAEC.
“And it was just so successful that we started it at our high schools, and other universities came on board. So it’s gone national, and it all started in Guysborough.”
With Guysborough, Fanning Education Centre/Canso Academy, St. Mary’s Academy, Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School, East Antigonish and SAERC now hosting their own Jack.org teams, mental health discussions can take their place among other topics integral to the growth of students in the public school system, according to Jack.org national program manager Sarah Mughal.
“We have the sex talk when we’re kids, because we need to know what’s happening to our bodies and we need to know how to keep ourselves healthy and respond to the issues,” Mughal pointed out during the summit’s opening assembly.
“We never have the same conversation growing up on how to take care of our minds and how mental health works – which means that kids are all freaked out to talk about it.”
Co-sponsored by the SRSB, Nova Scotia Public Health and community health boards, with financial assistance from Health Promoting Schools grants from two provincial government departments, the regional Jack.org summit is critical towards continuing conversations about mental health at the high school level, according to EAAEC Jack.org team leaders Codie O’Neil and Falon Pettipas.
“I have depression on my own, and it really made me feel like I’m not alone, so it really helped,” Pettipas recalled.
“It should all be viewed as part of your health in general – physical health and mental health should be viewed as the same,” added O’Neil, who has struggled with her own anxiety issues.
“It’s a part of what makes you ‘you.’”
For more information, visit the Web site: www.jack.org.