BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
Mental health nurses have recently been assigned to Red Lake District High School (RLDHS) and Queen Elizabeth High School in Sioux Lookout, the first positions of their kind in the Keewatin District School Board (KPDSB).
The board’s Director of Education, Sean Monteith says Red Lake and Sioux Lookout were selected for one nurse each based on what he calls a basic need. Mental health issues are higher in those two locations.
“Mental health and addictions concerns often go hand in hand, they quite often are not separable…access to addiction and mental health services for kids are less available or less readily available in Red Lake and Sioux Lookout than in Kenora or Dryden,” says Monteith.
Superintendent of Education Joan Kantola says while the board doesn’t diagnose mental illnesses, the most common mental health concern within the board is likely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which includes a variety of spin-off issues such as depression, separation issues related families parting ways, and alcohol and drug addictions.
“There are all sorts of repercussions from those types of mental illnesses. There are pockets of our board that see very high incidences of suicide, which is a direct result of some these kinds of mental health issues, and a lot of kids that self harm.”
For the past few years, the board’s mental health lead has been working hard to encourage students to self-refer and peer-refer, and that type of referral will continue to be encouraged with the two new nurses in place.
The goal is to have the nurses working on the “front lines” rather than getting backed up with bureaucratic red tape, says Monteith.
“Our expectation as a school board and my expectation as the director is that they are working with the kids.”
Monteith says this is a crucial moment since mental health issues are not only more prevalent in the northwest than the rest of the province, but they’re also on the rise.
“I would tell you that the public awareness effort and our board’s attention to mental health issues in schools has brought about an increased level of awareness so it might appear that the numbers are on the rise…However, having said that, from our experience, they are absolutely on the rise and in the northwest it’s a matter that not only the school board needs to look at, it’s a societal issue. Just like the bullying conversation,” says Monteith. “People think that a school board’s mandate is to solve mental health issue in all our kids. They’re fooling themselves. We need to work together with families, with parents, with agencies, with hospitals, with the police. This is a societal and a community concern. We all have to be concerned.”