Wednesday, January 26 is ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ day and MSS has services, programs ready

Mental health a priority

M’CHIGEENG – Today, Wednesday, January 26, is Bell Let’s Talk day. It’s a day to increase awareness around mental health and mental illness. The theme for 2022 is keep talking, keep listening, and keep being there for ourselves and each other. Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) came up with a week-and-a-half worth of celebrations that started on Monday, January 17, said Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) social worker Alison Orford. 

“We created a document where teachers could very quickly click on a link and there’s an activity of the day. There’s a video they can watch which includes the Bell Let’s Talk commercials (which are very powerful around the themes of ‘we’re listening, you’re not alone’ and culminating on Wednesday (January 26) with Bell Let’s Talk day,” she explained. 

The students she has interacted with are very grateful to return to in-person learning. “The remote learning does take a toll, especially on our students,” she noted. “It was perfect timing in that when we returned to in-person, there are all kinds of activities and we’re reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to not be okay and we need to keep talking. There’s lots of supports available.”

Statistics show that approximately one in five children and youth in Ontario faces a mental health challenge. An estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by a mental illness but less than 20 percent will receive appropriate treatment. Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years are more likely to experience a mental illness and or substance use disorder than any other age group. 

Ms. Orford uses the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask first, before helping any others, like we would in an airplane. That’s been especially relevant over the past two years. “I think it’s a really important lesson for all of us,” she explained. “For us to be there for our students, for our family members and friends, we do need to look after ourselves first.”

Another teacher recently talked with Ms. Orford about how she used some of the resource videos around activity and getting your body moving as one of her strategies to help improve wellness and well-being. “That’s an excellent way to look after ourselves,” noted Ms. Orford. “We can then also invite people to join us. If we have children at home, invite them to be active with us. That is one of the great ways of not only looking after our own wellness, but also passing on those same skills to others. The social interaction is helpful also.”

Part of the Bell Let’s Talk theme is around stigma, she added. “We need to start thinking about mental health similar to the way we would about physical health. It’s very much connected. When we can look after our physical well-being, such as by being active, it has a positive impact on our mental well-being as well. They’re not two separate things. They’re very much connected.”

The RDSB celebration plan incorporates some of the activities of Bell Let’s Talk and the commercials and videos they’re using and also provides links to School Mental Health Ontario, which is an excellent resource that parents can access as well. “It has all kinds of ideas and activities you can do with others, with your children at home or within classroom settings that, in a very broad manner, address well-being and has different difficulty strategies and different difficulty skills,” said Ms. Orford.

She suggests that people be more open to supporting others as well as to the supports that are available for themselves. “We are very fortunate on Manitoulin Island to have access to really excellent services and supports and some specifically for children and youth. As a parent, if you see that your child is suffering, certainly you can start with calling the school. There’s also a number of services out there that you could reach out to, to get that added help and support. Sometimes we need to go a little bit further to provide help and support to our children and youth and there’s lots of different ways we can do that.”

Using the theme of Bell Let’s Talk, Ms. Orford said, it’s about ‘keep listening, keep talking.’ “When people see you as a person they can go to, they see you as a supportive person, so even if they’re not going to tell you exactly what’s bothering them, simply by being there for them can be very powerful for that person.” 

Parents, teachers and students can access RDSB resources at rainbowschools.ca/schools/mental-health-well/bell-lets-talk-day/.

MSS students can also access help through the ‘Creating Hope Project: Mental health individualized plans, teacher learning and leadership program’ established at the school in 2018. The program is still ongoing and “gives students an alternate way of reaching out and getting some help within the school setting,” Ms. Orford explained. “At Kids Help Phone you can call, you can text or you can message. Here at MSS, you can call or you can show up in someone’s office and ask for a meeting or you can use a Google form through this program to ask for help. The ones that have accessed that avenue for asking for help this fall have often commented ‘wow, that was a really quick response.’ It’s a whole team approach within the school. A variety of different staff members are part of it so that we can respond as soon as a student asks for help.”

The Bell Let’s Talk campaign began in September 2010. At that time, most people weren’t talking about mental illness despite an urgent need for action. Bell Let’s Talk is focused on ‘engaging Canadians to take action to create positive change in mental health.’ In March 2020, Bell announced the extension of the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative for an additional five years. 

Additional resources for Bell Let’s Talk day can be found at letstalk.bell.ca.