By Bernie Froese-Germain
Janet Ramsay (Terry Fox Elementary School) discussed her involvement in the development of a new CTF teacher resource called “Mental Health Stigma: Challenging it together!” which aims to increase students’ comfort level when talking about mental health. Teachers can use this “student voice” booklet with their students to develop critical thinking skills by examining preconceptions and misconceptions about mental illness; explore stigma around mental illness to help eliminate or reduce it; develop empathy and understanding regarding how mental illness affects people and communities; and create a dialogue of understanding to build a community of acceptance, compassion, and inclusivity.
The Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity intersectionally promotes diversity in gender identity, gender expression, and romantic and/or sexual orientation in all its forms on a national level through services in the areas of education, health, and advocacy. CCGSD Director Jeremy Dias talked about his personal experience being bullied noting that “without advocates such as teachers and other educators, he wouldn’t be here.” This work is very much about social justice and human rights. Our role is to reach out to those who are suffering and to lift them up. Dias talked about various campaigns and resources of the Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity such as the Day of Pink campaign and the GSA Action Handbook. We need to go beyond tolerance and acceptance to celebrate trans people and reflect them in curriculum.
Lisa Weintraub (Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions) stated that COPA champions the rights of francophones outside Quebec and also defends and promotes the rights of all children. COPA’s focus on the prevention of violence against youth is founded on a feminist and anti-oppression approach. Research has found that children with adverse experiences (poverty, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, alcoholic parent, a parent in prison, etc.) are at greater risk of developing serious health problems in adulthood; conversely, those children who have a better start in life (fewer negative experiences) are more likely to live a longer healthier life.
Mary Simon (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) said she believes education is a core foundation to build on in Inuit society. Teachers have one of the most important jobs in our communities and need to be recognized for that. Over the past 60 years, there have been dramatic social and cultural changes impacting on Inuit mental health including the residential school system. The impact of these changes continues to resonate through Inuit communities – trauma in early childhood carries over into adulthood (intergenerational trauma). In terms of human resources while the ideal is to train and equip local Inuit people as mental health professionals, the reality is that given the urgency of the mental health crisis there’s a need for both non-Inuit and Inuit individuals. Simon concluded by saying that the ITK wants partners to support them in the work they’re doing in education (to create a system that embraces Inuit culture, language, identity) and in mental health.
(Bernie Froese-Germain is a researcher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation)