The Saskatchewan Health Authority and provincial government hope a new project will help high school students during difficult times.
North Battleford Comprehensive High School and John Paul II Collegiate have been selected as two of five schools participating in a mental health capacity building pilot project.
According to a provincial news release, “the initiative focuses on prevention and mental health promotion, early identification and intervention and works to help children and youth better manage their feelings and overall mental health and to increase awareness on where to find help.”
The project, modelled after one in Alberta, sees mental health capacity building staff working in schools to carry out tasks including organizing mental health promotion events and referring students to existing mental health programs in the community. Students might be referred to Child and Youth Services, Concern For Youth, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club.
According to the release, the government has spent $1.2 million in 2018-19 “for the mental capacity building pilot sites,” with $600,000 of such funding coming from the Canada-Saskatchewan Bilateral Funding Agreement.
Erin Woytiuk is school co-ordinator of the local schools, and overlooks mental health promoters. Part of Woytiuk’s role involves giving a “mental health lens” to classes and providing resources to follow curriculum outcome.
Mental health promoters also host events to “help build that resiliency within students,” including promoting self-care and self-love on Valentine’s Day.
Another of Woytiuk’s tasks includes bringing speakers to the community.
Regarding whether such positions are provided enough provincial funding toward mental health, Woytiuk said “it's a start and anything will help.”
The matter of mental health funding has recently been politically relevant in Saskatchewan.
In their most recent budget, the Sask. Party dedicated approximately five per cent ($284 million) of its total health budget toward mental health.
NDP MLA Danielle Chartier has argued such funding isn’t enough, and that the “national average” is about seven per cent.
Mental health funding was a topic at an October 2018 Living Sky School Division board meeting, attended by MLAs Larry Doke and Herb Cox.
Doke said he was “concerned about the mental health side of things,” and said he hoped the government “can do something there.”
Advocates including nationally-known sportscaster Michael Landsberg, who spoke in North Battleford about a year ago, hope to end a stigma around mental health.
Woytiuk said there is less of a stigma, and mental health matters now are much more “in the open.”
“We’ve come a long way,” she said.