Grade 12 students Grace Williamson (left) and Makayla Thexton, members of Vanier Secondary’s chapter, outlined their own struggles with mental health issues and how they found support. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Mental health supports coming for Comox Valley students

New program is only the second one in the province so far

Grace Williamson and Makayla Thexton know first-hand about mental health challenges and how students need more mental health support.

At age 13 Williamson was diagnosed with a condition that left her experiencing chronic pain. Quickly, she realized how this was tied to mental health.

“Mental health and physical health go hand in hand,” she said.

Thexton said in her Grade 10 year she started to feel her self-confidence sink to an “all-time low,” and that she did not fit in anywhere, though the feelings did not seem to be in response to any obvious external or social factors.

“In groups, I felt like an outsider…. I felt this way even though my friends had never done anything,” she said.

She started isolating herself but then, like Williamson, got involved with Vanier Secondary’s chapter of a national organization called The group aims to empower young people to handle mental health challenges, ones that all too often people find difficult to discuss.

“There is no shame in talking to someone,” Williamson added. “Without support, I might not have been as strong.”

The two Grade 12 students spoke as part of an announcement at the school by the Province for a new integrated model to support students in the Comox Valley School District. Students will now have a clearer, easier-to-understand path to mental health and substance use services. It’s described as a “one-care-plan” approach for the school district and is the second one established in B.C. The first team – in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows – was announced in July of this year.

“This is wonderful news for students, parents and educators in our district. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in enrolment over the past few years so added supports – especially in the areas of mental health and overall wellness for students – could not have come at a better time,” said Ronna-Rae Leonard, Courtenay-Comox MLA.

For the new model, integrated teams will work closely with schools and team-based primary care and specialized services providers to offer “wraparound” care to children, youth and their families. This means individuals experiencing mental health and substance use challenges and their families will no longer need to retell their stories to different care providers or search on their own for the supports they need.

“For far too long, families have had to knock on door after door to get the help they need for their children,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “These integrated child and youth teams will make it so much easier to connect young people to the help they need, where and when they need it.”

Darcy appeared with her colleague, Minister of Education Rob Fleming, in making the announcement Thursday afternoon at Vanier.

RELATED STORY: $8.87 million for mental health programs, resources in B.C. schools

The Comox Valley district was selected as the location for the second integrated child and youth team in B.C. because of its strong relationships throughout the community supporting the mental health of students as well as the proactive measures already in place. These measures include: developing a district mental health plan, including mental health wellness as part of its strategic plan, training school teams in the mental health curriculum, teaching mental health literacy at the high school level, establishing a school-based wellness centre, and working closely with community partners on all initiatives that support vulnerable youth.

“We are extremely fortunate to be part of this great initiative. Student mental health is one of our district’s strategic focuses and through this partnership, we will be able to work collaboratively with our community partners to provide our students with resources that will strengthen and improve their mental health,” said Tom Demeo, superintendent for the Comox Valley School District.

Additional integrated child and youth teams, which were introduced as part of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions’ Roadmap for better mental health and addictions care, will be established in three more school districts over the next two years.

Integrated service delivery teams will be formed in the Comox Valley school district in December 2019. Implementation will follow and new positions will be determined based on service delivery gaps identified in the area.

The Province will also be providing teachers and school counsellors with more resources to help them identify students who need supports earlier, before small problems become more serious.

The integrated service delivery model is an evidence-based approach that has resulted in:

• Positive growth and development of children and youth

• Reduced wait times for services for children, youth and families

• Increased school engagement and academic success

Implementing A Pathway to Hope is a shared priority with the BC Green Caucus and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.

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Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, made the announcement about the new program to support student mental health in the Comox Valley school district at Vanier Secondary on Thursday afternoon. Photo by Mike Chouinard

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