Making the Uncomfortable Comfortable

Photo 1: L-R: Steffanie Pelleboer, Mental Health Leader at DDSB, and Georgette Davis, Superintendent of Education, welcome students and teacher supervisors to the first ever Secondary Student’s Mental Health Symposium.

Durham District School Board (DDSB) hosts the first ever Caring for our Mental Health: Secondary Student’s Mental Health Symposium

On May 8, the Student Senate and Well-Being Working Group, in collaboration with the Safe Schools, Mental Health and Well-Being department, held the first ever Secondary Student’s Mental Health Symposium. The event invited teacher supervisors and teams of high school students from across the region to help make the uncomfortable comfortable by creating awareness and reducing stigma around mental health.

Highlighting inclusion and one of the board’s key strategic priorities of Well-Being, keynote presenter Ian Brown used his love of comedy and his passion for working with children and youth to present strategies to help students engage in serious topics. Brown is a strong proponent of using comedy, when appropriate, to create meaningful and impactful conversation.

In his keynote address, Brown drew attention to the behaviours surrounding stigma, asking participants to examine their own attitudes, words and actions around mental health. “We all have mental health and we all live along a spectrum,” explains Brown. “It’s important to be aware of our own reaction to stigma. Are we being silent? Supportive? Are we bystanders or upstanders?”

Be courageous

With one in five young people diagnosed with a mental illness, Steffanie Pelleboer, Mental Health Leader at DDSB, stressed “the importance of mental health, our responsibility to help take care of mental health and our role in having courageous conversations around mental health.” She hopes student teams take these messages back to their schools to help make a difference. “Every journey, hard or easy, begins with one step,” explains Pelleboer. “Every action, however small, can create a significant difference.”

Other workshops at the symposium included Healthy Relationships with Holly Richards, Safe Schools Facilitator for the DDSB, which explored the importance of social connection and how to recognize the signs of toxic relationships; and Healthy Habits by Dan Hogan, Substance Abuse Violence Prevention Co-ordinator of the Safe Schools Department at DDSB, which focused on making healthy choices that build our mental and physical health.

The event also included a resource fair and activities aimed at providing students tools to share with their peers as change leaders. According to Georgette Davis, Superintendent of Education, Safe Schools, Mental Health and Well-Being, “Our vision is to foster a culture where everyone feels safe, comfortable and valued for showing up as their true self. In this way we can bring out the best in every member of our schools and school community.”

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