Capping off the end of Mental Health Week in May, Ottawa high school students and senators sat down together for an enriching workshop on mental health literacy held in the Senate of Canada Building that ended with one senator saying she could see the direct impact it had on students.
Senator Marty Deacon and Senator Stan Kutcher co-hosted the workshop on May 13 and invited Andrew Baxter from Alberta Health Services to lead St. Paul Catholic High School students and other senators in a conversation about what constitutes good mental health and how to avoid labeling normal, everyday emotions as mental illnesses.
Senator Deacon said she spoke with one student following the session who was planning to help a friend in distress later that day.
“I said, ‘Is there anything today that is going to alter or help you manage this?’ and she was all over it,” Senator Deacon said, adding the student explained how what she learned would shape her approach.
“It was an incredible response she gave me that I thought was really interesting.”
Senators Robert Black and Paul E. McIntyre also participated in the event. Students identified factors like family, graduation and financial issues when asked to define what stress meant to them. They also discussed major contributions of famous people with mental illnesses, such as Chance the Rapper and Demi Lovato, who have been very public about their challenges.
One of the main takeaways from a presentation by Andrew Baxter, project lead of mental health literacy at Alberta Health Services, was to not let the ups and downs of life be misunderstood as depression or anxiety.
“Feeling sad one day and then energized the next day is normal mental health,” he said.
Students also went on a guided tour of the Upper Chamber and learned about the Senate’s new temporary home, the Senate of Canada Building.
Senator Kutcher, a psychiatrist with years of experience in the field of youth mental health, said learning to use the right language around the issue can help break down stigma.
“One of the challenges that I think many of the young people face today is that they have been instilled with the idea that if I feel this stress signal, that that’s really bad and I can do everything I can to shut it down, when really the stress signal is the call to action,” the senator said.
“No really great things ever happen in our lives or in our communities if, when we feel upset about something, we avoid it. Most of the things that make us feel upset, we have to actually do something to change it.”