Balwin School was just one of dozens of schools across the province to host special Hats On! for Mental Health events on Wednesday.
Students there held a freezie sale where notes of encouragement were handed out telling peers to love themselves the way they are.
“There is hope even when your brain tells you there isn’t. Mental illness is not a personal failure,” said Grade 8 student Dejah Ward, reading off the notes she helped hand out.
“We’re just trying to send out a positive message towards [students] to make them feel like they do matter,” Ward explained.
Hats On! aims to get students, teachers and parents to talk more openly about mental health.
“It’s important that we know that everybody has mental health just like every body has physical health,” said Mary France Fitzgerald, a member of the Alberta Teachers Association’s Council for School Counsellors.
“In our normal daily mental health, we do have negative periods and we do have a week or two where things might not be going right,” said Fitzgerald. It’s when the symptoms escalate, or when trauma occurs, that educators need to be aware of those changes.
Having regular check-ins with students by asking “can we talk?” may be part of the solution.
“I think the teachers have recognized that they’re not mental health counsellors, they are not psychologists, but they know they need to be there for the students in a more compassionate way.”
Fitzgerald estimates that more than 1,000 Alberta teachers have received teen mental health training since September alone, and points to resources at CanWeTalk.ca and TeenMentalHealth.org for parents looking to approach the subject with their child.