WATCH: Global’s Jill Croteau reports on a school-based project in High River helping teens deal with the mental health impact of the 2013 floods.
CALGARY – A school-based project in High River has allowed teens to express their mental health struggles since the 2013 Alberta floods in a way they weren’t able to before.
“We’re grown up, we’re not kids, but we’re also not adults, and we don’t have adult worries quite yet,” said Grade 11 student Maria Vander Molen. “The hardest part was seeing everyone else upset.”
Lori Big Old Man, another Grade 11 student, said she struggled with the frustration felt throughout the town.
“It was hard to understand it all because I had no idea what the government was even doing.”
They’ve shared uncensored insights into how their community is coping with the aftermath.
“Kids whose parents were dealing with stuff so they couldn’t get any support—they turned to drugs and alcohol to try and fix their problems,” said Grade 12 student Micah Robertson.
“That’s affected me more, because I’m just seeing how lucky I was, but then also then seeing how painful it can be for some people.”
The floods led to the creation of “Hearts and Minds,” a one-of-a-kind program around mental health and wellness.
“People are not fully recovered yet,” said Fawna Bews, of the Hearts and Minds program. “Some of that holding it together is starting to crack. I am hearing it all over town; they keep crying, they can’t sleep, they can’t remember things, and they don’t want to get up.”
Under the previous Progressive Conservative government, mental health funding was under threat. Financial support for such programs was at risk of being cut. This program’s future is still uncertain, but the NDP government and the provincial health minister are exploring ways to keep them going using surplus flood recovery money.
“Now is not the time to be pulling out funding, because you’re going to end up paying more for that later on, whether it be through hospitalizations, whether it be through suicide,” said the school’s guidance counselor, Lori Isberg, who also struggled with the lingering memories of the floods.
“It was like an explosion had gone off, of mud and raw mother nature force that was just unbelievable to see,” she said. “I drove to the top of the water tower hill and looked down at where my property was and saw the water and I just couldn’t move…and I started to sob.”
The Calgary Counselling Centre office in High River still sees clients at no cost and has had its funding extended until March 2016, with the hopes of remaining permanently.
To read more about the Hearts and Minds program, visit the website here.