6 to 12 May 2019 was designated as “Mental Health Week” by the Canadian Mental Health Association. In recognition of the week, Garneau’s Student Activity Council (SAC) and school counselors organized mental health workshops for Garneau students on 9 and 10 May. The workshops were held at lunch in the cafeteria and featured various stations with activities to help students de-stress. One station included puzzles which students could build with their friends. Another featured handouts with resources on coping strategies, external mental health support, substance abuse, and healthy eating. A food station was also organized with healthy foods for students to grab, including tuna salad, egg salad, roasted sweet potatoes, green salad, and yogurt and berries. Students also had the opportunity to build stress balls and create paintings. They also experienced different types of scents including candles, herbal teas, and lemonade.

Throughout the stations, the organizers used items, such as painting material, scents, and puzzles, that were easily accessible and affordable for students to purchase outside of school. Their goal was to ensure that students are able to recreate the activities to destress at home.  

Students contributing to a wellness wall. Image: Evelyn Jiang.

One of the most popular stations was the wellness wallan area where students could write suggestions on how to improve mental wellbeing. These were pasted on a large poster which will be displayed in the school. Parnia Moradi Zadeh, an MGCI student volunteer helping with a wellness wall, said, “I had needed help with my mental health and at first, it was really hard for me to seek help. Once I started talking to one of the school counselors, it really helped me improve my mental health. That’s why when she told me that they were organizing this event for mental health week, I really wanted to get involved.” She hoped that through the event, students learned how to better cope with their stress. In terms of improves, Parnia added, “I hope that we are able to get more people to participate next year.”

In addition to the events in the cafeteria, a discussion was also organized in the Overlea room in which students conversed about mental health and tobacco usage. Directed by an MGCI graduate, students talked about what mental health meant, with definitions ranging from prevalent emotions to mental wellbeing. They also compared stances on multiple statements surrounding mental health, such as the relationship between drug use and mental health as well as the prominence of mental health issues in women and in low-income individuals.

The two-day event was lead by Mr. Hesp, the child and youth worker at Garneau. Being the first year organizing such an event, Mr. Hesp was very pleased with the huge turnout. He said, “I think the event ran smoothly. There were a lot of student volunteers and a lot of help from the staff. All the students were very eager and ready to get involved. The event really helped bring people to work better as a group and brought the school community together.” In terms of improvements for following years, he added, “We can try to elaborate on the activities. It always takes time and energy to begin a new creative idea, but once we get started and build the momentum, it becomes a lot easier to make it bigger and better.”

In addition to the event held this week in support of mental health, there are multiple other sources available for students who need support. This includes the guidance counselors as well as the school social worker and mental health workers. There are also many external resources available for anyone who may need support such as SafeTalk and Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.  

Mental health remains an important, yet highly under-discussed topic. Discussions and workshops, such as these, should continue occurring to help eliminate the stigma surrounding the topic and encourage students to get help.