Steps being taken by Prairie Rose to improve mental health of students, staff

Prairie Rose Public Schools human resources manager Tammy Toews and division psychologist Greg Godard gave a presentation to the board Tuesday on employee wellness and the strategies in place.

HONE Work + Life is a digital platform all employees can access, which measures criticism, fatigue, relationships, time constraints, pressure, engagement and overall well being.

Nearly half the division’s employees (48%) are using the app. Once a week they receive a survey, which takes less than a minute to complete. It provides a solid checkup, and all data received (anonymously) is being used to improve the workplace.

Toews creates packages that are sent out each month containing 10-minute wellness activities. This week a wellness competition was started, and Toews hopes it will increase employees internal/intrinsic motivation to take care of themselves and all dimensions of their wellness.

Godard discussed current student mental health services as well. Prairie Rose has seven full-time family/school liaison workers (FSLWs), along with other support staff for mental health, one service dog (Lula) and one therapy dog (Timber).

Recent statistics show a near crisis in mental health that is visible in both rural and urban areas. It is most evident in the 15- to 24-year-old range, or high school and post-secondary students.

There is a significant increase in anxiety, some in depression, but no increase in suicide, although referrals to emergency rooms and suicide ideation have increased. As a result, there has been an increase in services to address mental health needs.

Individual counselling, group counselling, parent training, circle of security, violent threat risk assessments (VTRAs), are among the services available.

From September to December 2022, statistics were not dissimilar to the pre-pandemic issues being addressed by FSLWs. Most of the concerns being discussed are anxiety, family issues and peer relationships.

The presentation suggested parents are stressed more than ever and are concerned their children aren’t handling stress well. The resilience of students has gone down and it is felt they have been too protected and are now having trouble dealing with normal day-to-day stresses, such as having to write an exam.

There is a trickle-down effect happening from parents and families to students. One observation is parents aren’t teaching their children how to experience stress, to learn how to tolerate that discomfort.

Another factor is the increase in screen time, averaging 10.5 hours a day. Current research indicates that more than two hours of screen time per day can have a correlation to increased mental health problems.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News