Alberta expands Empathy, a mental health support program for youth

Classroom file
File: Classroom. Ty Wright/Associated Press/File

CALGARY – A school-based mental health program the government says will benefit students across Alberta is being expanded to children in Red Deer schools.

Budget 2015 contains $5 to $6 million for the expansion of the program, which is called Empathy. It’s a pilot project between Alberta Health Services’ Addiction and Mental Health Strategic Clinical Network that focuses on “prevention, early identification and rapid treatment in elementary and junior high schools,” said the government in a Wednesday release.

“The EMPATHY program has had a significant impact not only by identifying and providing needed support for students with potential mental health issues, but also by creating conversation and awareness among students, staff and families,” said Mark Jones, principal at Central Middle School.

READ MORE: Calgary mental health cuts leave dozens of patients waiting for care

Health Minister Stephen Mandel said that he believes it’s very important to help young people deal with the pressures of going to school in 2015, including the constant exposure to social media.

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“In my opinion this is the one program that we could see from the very beginning…we wanted to implement because of the challenges students face,” said Mandel.

“I heard everywhere I went from teachers that’re friends of mine, and people–psychiatrists—that I know, that students are in great risk and just the world has changed so much.”

Premier Jim Prentice said by expanding addiction and mental health resources in schools, “we are helping ensure our children have every chance to be happy and to succeed in whatever paths they choose to pursue in life.”

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Alberta Health currently funds mental health programs in 193 schools. In Budget 2015, Alberta Health plans to invest $48 million in addiction and mental health programs.

“Expanding school-based resources province-wide will help to ensure that all students have the supports they need to thrive,” said Jones.

READ MORE: Alberta NDP raises concerns with province’s mental health care services