Educationally Speaking, By Rob MacLellan
Canadians with mental health issues deserve our support, understanding
It’s a beautiful sunny morning, as I drive out to spend the day with the students and staff of Hants North Rural High School. It’s fairly early in the morning and the air is still cool, the previous night’s low having been -1C. With the sun streaming through the windows of my car, it feels warm, so I wind the window down to feel the cool air.
As I drive along, random thoughts go through my mind and I seize on a couple of those to write about in this article.
I think about the sunny day first, as we’ve had few enough of those this spring, and I can’t help but think about how the sunny sky is a great analogy for the bright futures that lie ahead for students, regardless of their age, as they continue to pursue their academic dreams.
If I was still out west, where I lived for many years, I could draw this analogy out a bit further and speak to the limitless horizons of the endless prairie landscape and equate that as well with the possibilities lying ahead for today’s graduates.
While limitless vistas aren’t quite so common in Nova Scotia, unless one is gazing out over the ocean, we need not feel the closer more verdant landscape limits us in any way.
While the prairie landscape draws one’s eyes ever onward, the closer confines of the Nova Scotian countryside serve to comfort and to support us. With such support, our endeavours are bound to be fruitful.
The futures of our young people are the most bright and sunny because they still have so much of their lives ahead of them. There’s time to make mistakes, time to learn from those mistakes and time to chart new paths.
I drive a bit further towards my destination of Kennetcook, enjoying not only the sunny day and cool breeze, but also the gently wandering road that requires of me to pay close attention to my driving so I don’t chance upon an encounter that might prove fatal for a local woodland critter. Like life itself, our paths are never straight nor obstacle free, so we must be ever mindful of our progress.
As bright as today’s sky is and as bright a future as Nova Scotian students have, I can’t help but acknowledge the day isn’t a sunny one for everyone. Regardless of the position of the sun in the sky and the lack of any obscuring clouds, for many people the sky remains perpetually cloudy and their futures indelibly bleak. I refer to those for whom mental illness is an on-going life burden.
Last month, Olympic champion Clara Hughes’ cycled her way into Nova Scotia as part of her quest to speak to Canadians struggling with mental illness. Her message is that mental illness is something we need to talk about. For too long, those suffering from mental illness have struggled in the silence forced upon them by the stigma attached to the range of afflictions classified as mental illness.
The Canadian statistics on mental illness reveal 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that, “10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorders — the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Approximately five per cent of male youth and 12 per cent of female youth, ages 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. In Canada, only one out of five children who need mental health services receive them.”
The good news is, “Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80 per cent of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.”
Hughes is a Canadian role model and hero. I applaud her mission to heighten the public’s awareness of the pervasiveness of mental illness, how it affects people’s lives and the roles we can play in supporting those experiencing any one of these range of disorders
As I pull into the driveway of the school that’s my destination for this day, the sky remains sunny and bright, but I’m reminded the futures of all students may only approach a similar level of brightness if they receive support and encouragement from those of us who are their advocates. I urge everyone to do their part.
Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education and of non-profit organizations, a professional educator and a resident of Alton. He can be reached at 902-673-3269 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.