Schools frontline for mental health solutions

Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson's column on the importance of school-based mental health services.

The Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth (SSCCY) is one of nine select standing committees of the legislature, each composed of a majority of Government MLAs and members of the Official Opposition.

It’s up to the BC Liberals whether these committees actual convene to do work of the legislature and I’ve been fortunate enough to sit of two of them that do – finance in the past, and children and youth now.

As deputy chair of the SSCCY, I’m encouraged that all committee members decided to embark on a special investigation around youth mental health services in the province.

The first phase involved presentations by youth, families, service providers and experts. It focused on identifying needs and gaps. Our phase 1 report came out last November and found “the overall system is disjointed and fragmented, and lacking in inter-ministerial coordination and leadership.” We concluded that “there is an urgent need for action to improve mental health services and supports for youth.”

I’m sure those statements ring true for many northern residents.

The SSCCY completed its next phase of public engagement this summer focusing on drafting recommendations. I anticipate we will present those to the legislature this fall.

And, as many families gear up for the new school year, phase 1 observations that school-based services and support for youth are a critical part of improved outcomes comes to mind. We noted “how signs of mental health disorders often manifest in schools, and that a lot of pressure is put on teachers and counsellors to deal with struggling youth.”

So it was a good signal just last week that the University of British Columbia has created a new course in its teacher education program on youth mental health literacy so new teachers will be well versed in the topic and able to identify students needing mental health support and services.

To make a real difference it’s going to take a coordinated effort between ministries, a scaling up of the isolated pockets of good integrated service delivery in BC, and actually addressing lack of services, especially in northern and rural communities.

All of that depends on political leadership and I hope the committee’s recommendation will help spur that on this topic in the Premier’s office.

 

Doug Donaldson is the Opposition MLA for Stikine.