Looking after one’s mental health and well-being goes hand-in-hand with learning. Located in all regions of the board, there are professional and dedicated staff available for students and staff alike.
Near North District School Board (NNDSB)’s mental health team is comprised of a mental health lead, social workers, child development counsellors or commonly known as youth counsellors, brief and attendance counsellors, Indigenous youth and family outreach workers, and mental health and addictions nurses.
All of these professionals interact with educators, students, parents/guardians and community partners to deliver mental health promotion, prevention, group services and brief intervention services within all regions of the board’s 34 schools. The team’s overarching goal is to create circles of care around students in support of their academic achievement and helping them reach their fullest potential.
Most, if not all departments and services offered in the education sector have, at one point or another during COVID-19, strategized and re-imagined how services and educational learning are administered. Mental health services are no different.
Sue Lessard, NNDSB’s mental health lead, outlines how their services have adapted and enhanced services for students.
“Our team is better connected. We can quickly consult with each other on a daily basis. Connecting with a student virtually not only saves time, but also offers faster and enhanced supports for that student,” says Lessard. Since it can be done remotely, many students seem to prefer this method. “Depending on the student, face-to-face can be awkward for them so some students really like online, on the phone or even texting,” she adds. Lessard notes it’s important to know what platforms students engage on to better support their individual needs to building that trust connection.
“The ability to connect with students virtually has helped and made our services more accessible,” says fellow social worker Steven Spack.
Lessard adds the team works closely with the student’s school to develop a circle of care plan to help support that student.
“When we develop a plan, it’s also thinking how can that teacher support the student in the class and discussing with the principal how the school culture can incorporate social and emotional learning to enhance that student’s experience,” says Lessard.
In addition to assisting students on a regular basis, the social workers also handle crisis situations where a student may be struggling and need additional supports and resources.
Part of their role as social workers is to work hand-in-hand with community partners, including if a student is being discharged from hospital.
“We connect with the social worker at the hospital as part of discharge planning and how we can support that student. If needed, we connect with that student as a follow-up,” says Spack.
Lessard says COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of mental health and highlighted the need for supports for everyone. “I am very proud of our social work team. They have responded to this crisis with energy, enthusiasm, and hard work” she says.
The mental health team has created campaigns and challenges to help students with their mind, body, and soul. One of the campaigns is called Thrive in a Hive. Lessard notes there will be new challenges coming, and asks people to watch for them on Instagram @NNDSBsupports.
As part of NNDSB’s mental health services team, Child Development Counsellors are located in the schools.
In elementary schools, Child Development Counsellors provide supports such as: social-emotional skill teaching in targeted evidence-based group programs that build skills in emotional regulation, anxiety reduction, coping, and stress management; mood management; problem-solving, and peer relationships. Student wellness is the focus of using strength-based approaches to build resiliency in all of our students.
In the intermediate and secondary schools, students can access walk-in counselling provided in all the high schools. These counselling services include a focus on teaching problem solving, stress, and mood management, developing a positive mindset and communication skills. The counsellors address a variety of concerns ranging from low mood, managing anxiety and stress, complying with parental and academic expectations, drug misuse and suicidal thoughts and urges to self-harm.
All NNDSB counsellors are trained in screening for suicide risk and are well versed in pathways to additional care when required.
Located at West Ferris Secondary School (WFSS), Sue Beaulieu is one of the many dedicated counsellors. She has been in her position at WFSS for seven years. “Here at West Ferris, I have a very supportive administration and I feel very lucky to have such a great staff to work with,” she says.
Developing and maintaining that trust with students is important for Beaulieu and that includes the location of her office.
“Having my office located in the guidance and attendance office opposed to closer to the administration is important in building that trust in a way to not confuse students and build that connection,” she says.
In addition to supports students, Beaulieu is also there for the staff.
“Supporting staff is part of my role because if I can help a teacher with their own mental well-being (that) will benefit the students as well,” she says.
One of the favourite parts of Beaulieu’s job is being there for the students and helping them through their challenges.
“Having the student in my office and sharing personal information with me is an honour. The fact that they trust me to share their thoughts and feelings with and being that one person that they can trust,” she says.
When a student comes in for the first time and they seem apprehensive about talking, Beaulieu’s caring and compassionate skillset allows for that trust connection to be developed. Some of the students may only need to come in once or twice, but others make it a regular visit to share some things that they are having a difficult time with.
“We’re here to listen and being there for the student in that moment. Sometimes I don’t even try to sort through the problems until the second or third session because they just have so much to share.” Beaulieu says that as counsellors it’s not them who solve the problems, it’s the students. “A lot of the time I will have a student thank me for solving their problems and my response is always ‘I didn’t solve your problem, you did.’ I was just there to encourage, listen, and possibly provide more resources. It’s the individual who works through their challenges.”
Reflecting on previous interactions with students, Beaulieu says students have come back years later to say she literally saved their life.
“When they come back with the exact date and say ‘when I came in to see you, you saved my life.’ That makes me a bit emotional,” Beaulieu expressed. “Feeling like I’ve made that connection and had a positive impact on their life is an honour and privilege.”
To learn more about mental health services at NNDSB, visit the board website.