Mental health matters at Branksome every day, but each year we designate a week for focused thinking, learning and discussion in an effort to increase our knowledge and reduce the stigma that so often accompanies mental illness.
During the last week of January we held Mental Health Matters Week, a school-wide initiative with age-appropriate activities in the Senior and Middle School, including open conversations and walks. Junior School students explored ways to engage in self-care through card making, colouring and physical outlets. They also launched an Art project titled “We Rise by Lifting Others,” made up of paper feathers designed by students and arranged in the shape of wings.
Guest speakers were also welcomed at assemblies, including Linda Monteith Gardiner from Creative Works Studio, who shared with the Junior School how art can be part of a toolkit for well-being and good mental health. Meanwhile, students in the Senior and Middle School led their assembly, promoting mental health services available to them and sharing stories.
Signy and Ginny, Co-Heads of Branksome’s Jack Chapter, guided the assembly, reminding students that our Jack Chapter is focused on reducing the stigma surrounding youth mental health. “This year, our Chapter’s overall goal is to create a safe environment for conversation, and to educate our community on ways to notice changes in mental health and how to respond,” said Ginny.
Sarah, a Grade 11 student, shared her personal mental health experience in assembly, opening up about the challenges she faced in learning environments. “Whether it was a tennis lesson or Math class, I struggled to listen and follow instructions,” she said.
Sarah was later diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “I thought that now since we knew why I was struggling, everything was meant to get better, but that was simply not the truth,” said Sarah. “At the time, I didn’t know that having ADHD or any type of learning disorder can put you at a greater risk for developing a mental illness.” Sarah’s depression and anxiety grew and she found situations, like raising her hand in class, challenging.
After spending a summer at a new camp and meeting some inspirational friends, Sarah found her voice. “I began to be proud of myself for all I have gone through and I began to speak out more about my mental illnesses because I wanted to help people who felt the way I felt,” she said. “I was able to stop being angry at myself and become a stronger person. I found some medications that worked for me, I found friends who could understand what I am going through, I found a school community I’m welcome in, and I began to find myself again.”