Local lawyer Tim Daley was the keynote speaker as part of Wellness Day at the P-8 school, and spoke about his experience with depression.
“They’re not weird; they’re ill,” he said of friends or family members of the students who could be suffering from a mental illness.
Daley usually speaks to groups of lawyers and judges about his battle with mental illness, and said he tried to tailor it a younger crew.
“The big decision I had to make today was not to dumb it down. It doesn’t need to be. I think that even among the youngest of the children up front, there was real engagement and understanding at some level. I don’t expect them to get it all.”
Though some of the information he shared – signs, what to do – is readily available, he said hearing it from somebody allows students to feel like they have permission to talk about their struggles, or a loved one’s.
Jill Fraser, a teacher at New Glasgow Academy who was one of the organizers of the event, said it’s part of the curriculum to learn about wellness in different capacities from the start of school, focusing on preventative measures at younger ages such as staying fit, and getting plenty of sleep.
She said they want to encourage a stigma-free environment in the school community.
“It’s a really important topic that often gets overlooked,” Fraser, who is also a healthy living mentor for the school board, said.
Following Daley’s talk, students went on to presentations that focused on addictions, active living, and sexual orientation and gender identity.
Younger students heard about physical activity, and the brain’s role in health as well as taking part in expressive art.
Though the age group at the presentation is less likely to have depression than high school students or adults, Daley explained that experiences from childhood can manifest into mental illness later in life, using divorce or separation of parents as an example.
“The impact it has on children is really quite alarming. Sometimes the impact doesn’t show up until they themselves are adults,” said Daley, who practises family law, elaborating that the grown children can mirror unhealthy relationships.
For more than a decade, Daley has been involved with a parent education program through family court that meets with parents in order to discuss how to keep children isolated from the process.
“I know that there’s gong to be a lot of kids here that are hurting. But they have no vocabulary to express that,” he said, noting that adults are often able to talk things through with friends, while kids react through behaviour. “My thought is, ‘I don’t care how young you are, the younger the better’ (to know) that this is, one, common; two, not shame-worthy and shouldn’t be stigmatized; and three, you can do something about it.”
New Glasgow Academy is one of three schools in the area that has access to SchoolsPlus, a program for students and families that brings access to social work, health, justice, and mental health services into school settings.
On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda