Richmond student advocates for mandatory mental health education in BC schools

Mar 24 2021, 10:52 pm

Richmond high school student DJ Gill says she’s never had an extensive education on mental health and wellness, and she’s trying to change that.

The 10th grader says BC schools currently do not offer a specific mental health education curriculum, so most students never get the opportunity to learn how to psychologically care for themselves.

Gill believes that mental health education should be a class on its own, much like physical health has its own curriculum with PE classes.

“At my school, talking to a counsellor is an available resource, although I don’t think this benefits a lot of students because many do not feel comfortable sharing their private emotions and thoughts with someone that they don’t know personally,” Gill told Daily Hive in an interview.

“Teaching high schoolers how to identify symptoms of poor mental health, and how to cope with negative thoughts is important because one’s mental health impacts every aspect of their life. If a student has poor mental health, it will reflect in their academics, extracurriculars, and more, so teaching students mental health education will help them excel and reach their full potential in whatever they put their energy towards.”

Realizing this gap in BC schools’ curriculum, Gill sent an open letter last December to BC Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside with some effective and inclusive ways to implement mental health education in schools across the province.

“In our PE classes, we should have a linear system, in which one day we do physical health education, and the next day mental health education,” Gill told Daily Hive.

“Designated days would ensure that we are actually being educated on these topics. Involuntarily providing students with relevant information is the most effective and inclusive method, because this way, students do not have to be vulnerable and seek out help,” she said.

“In the response, the Ministry of Education claims mental well-being is already included in the PE curriculum, although I think I speak for most BC students when I say we are not educated on mental health in PE class.”

Gill argued PE mostly focuses on physical health and fitness, and it tends to stray away from asking students to sit at a desk to learn something about mental health.

In a response to Daily Hive, the Ministry of Education stated that “mental well-being is one of the four key areas of study in the required Physical and Health Education curriculum and students begin learning about mental well-being starting in Kindergarten.”

The ministry added that mental health and wellness are also included in the PE curriculum so students have a “more holistic view of health and well-being.”

“The PHE curriculum includes topics that acknowledge the deep interconnection between mental and physical well-being and reinforces the focus on mental well-being instead of ‘treating mental illness,’” stated the ministry.

Gill has now taken it upon herself to advocate for a mandatory mental health curriculum in BC schools, and she has started an Instagram account to share her ideas.

“I believe rather than encouraging students to talk to a counsellor, the mental health conversation must be brought to us,” she said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting people particularly hard in terms of mental health, Gill stresses the importance of adding mental health classes to the curriculum.

“I think that distracting yourself with social media content is what a majority of students are doing to cope,” she said.

“Rather than asking for help, many young people chose to ignore their symptoms and use social media or television to distract themselves. Teaching mental health literacy could prevent this.”

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