I've always been interested in Neuroscience and when I began working with students with Mental Illness I saw first hand what stigma was all about. One particular moment sticks out for me. I was in my classroom during an Open House event when a man and his daughter walked in and asked me what I taught. I told him that I worked with students identified with a Mental Illness. He then asked me what kinds of Mental Illness as he would not want his daughter going to school with "crazy" kids. I was flabbergasted that in today's world, we still have a picture of Jack Nicholson peeking through a broken door to depict Mental Illness.
Mental Health Education is fundamental in ensuring that the next generation of children are able to cope with change. It gives them the factual information on brain health, mental illness and the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain. In addition to my daily work in the Mental Health class, I speak with each CALM class on the topic of Brain Health, I host PD sessions for colleagues and I speak to Parent Councils to promote this topic. It is meant to encourage positive discussion on what mental illness is and what it is not. It improves open discussion and helps to reduce stigma. When current research suggests that 10% of the population could be diagnosed with a mental illness and most of those are not being treated or are self medicating, we need to make a change. Educating students, teachers and parents is the beginning of this change.
Kathy Penner has been a teacher with the Calgary Board of Education for 9 years. She is currently a Mental Health teacher at Centennial High School. Her classroom is a safe environment for students with a diagnosed Mental Illness that require individual attention throughout the day to help them manage their illness. Kathy works alongside a full time Behaviour Support Worker, part-time Family Educational Practitioner and a part-time Psychologist. Her work is in ensuring the students are meeting their mental health goals alongside their academic goals.
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