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Prince George school counsellors say mental health situation is at a crisis point

SD57 school counsellors are calling for greater counsellor-student ratios
(via Shutterstock)

Counsellors working in School District 57 (SD57) say the current mental health situation in the schools is at a crisis point, and are calling for back up.

“By the age of 18, half of our students will experience some form of trauma at least 20 per cent of the youth population has a diagnosable mental health disorder,” said Joanne Hapke, who is the president of the Prince George District Teacher’s Association (PGDTA) and spoke at Tuesday's (April 9) board of education public meeting.

She says school counsellors are being overwhelmed by the need and demand for their services, and are advocating for more school counsellors to meet the needs of all students.

“Conversations with high school counsellors in our district reflect seeing this,” said Hapke. “Daily they see students struggling with suicidal ideation and self-harm and other significant mental health issues including addiction.”

Hapke said she was presenting to the board on behalf of school counsellors, and read a statement which was prepared by them.

“We have written this statement today to make certain that school trustees are ware the mental health situation in SD57 is at a crisis point,” read Hapke.

“The need for in-school teacher counsellors who develop and maintain relationships with children as they venture through the school years is the best and most effective way to improve mental health and often severe behaviour.”

The letter also stated that school counsellors become the voice for kids to access help when they are living in desperate living situations when they report violence, neglect or traumatic loss.

“We are advocating for more school counsellors so that regular school counsellors servicing could be well done; meeting the needs of all our students instead of triaging the current mental health crisis in our schools.”

Board Chair Tim Bennett says the board has heard from teachers, principals, and from community partners about the increasing concern regarding mental health for students and their families.

“Our district has worked really hard to increase social and emotional learning supports in our classrooms because we recognize that when kids don’t come to class in a condition to learn, learning will not occur,” Bennett tells PrinceGeorgeMatters.

He says the number of counsellors is based on ratios that are built into the school district’s collective agreement but adds the board needs to look at what additional supports are needed for classrooms and students.

“We are in our consultation process regarding our 2019-2020 budget, so part of that process is identifying priorities and looking at how we are funding those priorities and I think there is going to be a lengthy conversation at those meetings about mental health,” says Bennett.

However, he also notes that mental health is not solely an education issue, but one involving many partners.

“If we are truly going to tackle mental health concerns for our children and our families, we need to start eliminating these silos and start working together because that is the only way we are going to create systematic change.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can text CONNECT to 686868 (the Kids Help Line) or call 1-800-668-6868. You can also reach the Prince George chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association at 250-564-8644. If you are thinking about ending your life or are concerned about someone who is, you can call 1-800-784-2433 or 911.