Ottawa, Ontario, Thursday, April 23, 2015
It is a special honour to help open this inaugural educators’ conference on mental health. Over these past five years while my husband has served as Governor General, I have had the privilege of witnessing dozens of innovative practices to help our young pass through childhood. This passage is not always easy. Present day youth must contend with social messaging that can in an instant change their world.
Let me share with you how teachers impacted my own life at the vulnerable age of five. I started school with a handicap: my parents had just divorced. This was rare at this time, and not an easy thing to endure.
And, to top it all off, I started school a week late after having my tonsils out!
Back in those days, all children had to swallow a goiter pill. I stood by the common fountain as the kids lined up to take their pill—but instead I took it for them!
No, I don’t have an inverted goiter as a result, but I did become popular after a bad start.
I remember there was one teacher who punished me for swallowing my classmates’ pills by hitting me with a ruler. But there was another teacher who sat me down and asked me how I felt and what was going on with me. I still remember the strapping but what really changed my life was the teacher to whom I could talk. At five years of age I was well on my way to understanding good mental health. Educators are important.
Imagine a troublemaker like me ending up as the Governor General’s wife. Believe me! Good teachers had a hand in that.
One of the clarion calls in my husband’s installation speech was a call to “cherish our teachers,” because they are so key to our well-being and development. Anyone who has achieved any degree of success in life can point to dozens of teachers, mentors and coaches who have made them better persons along the way. Certainly my husband does and often with a tear in his eye.
The installation speech revealed the three pillars we wanted to work on. The pillar supporting the well-being of families and children became focused on mental health.
Let me share two examples with you of what I’ve seen and learned at the intersection between mental health and education. There are many out there that I could speak of.
One is an initiative called Walkalong.ca.
This is a website designed to help young adults take charge of their own mental wellness. It was developed by researchers and practitioners at the University of British Columbia, based on surveys and in-depth interviews with young people.
If you haven’t already visited Walkalong.ca you really should. It’s a community for Canadian youth to share, connect and realize they’re not alone. It even includes a self-assessment tool. The site is regularly updated with feedback from youth and all content is vetted by researchers and psychiatrists with the Institute of Mental Health. It’s a straightforward, practical tool that is making a real difference.
Another wonderful program, out of Winnipeg’s South East Collegiate, caters to Ojibwe, Oji-Cree and Cree students from across Manitoba who have suffered the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and family dysfunction.
The program is called Mino Bimaadiziwin, or “the Good Life.” David and I visited South East Collegiate at the beginning of his mandate. The school director at the time asked the students to tell us about their experience. We left South East Collegiate with the feeling we had witnessed the profound relationship between students and teacher-facilitators. It was deeply moving to see how the traumatized students had developed such self-esteem, and understanding of their surroundings.
You will hear shortly from Dr. Stanley Kutcher. But let me say that his simple, uncomplicated and universal approach greatly improves the mental health of young people. It also made me think outside the box.
Imagination is vital in changing the face of mental health.
This conference will be a wonderful opportunity to share and discover best practices.
Let me end by repeating my husband’s installation words. « Cherish our teachers. » For indeed we both do that. Thank you.