The end of summer holidays this week meant students across the region headed back to school. While the experience is an exciting chance to catch up with friends and meet their new teachers, for some students it can be anxiety inducing.
Beth Mason, program director at Woolwich Counselling Centre, hears from a lot of students who suffer from anxiety and social fears, among other mental health issues. She says it’s important to start addressing these issues young and to help parents and students alike realize it’s normal to have these feelings.
“Depending on what age the child is, first and foremost I think what’s so important that we sometimes forget about is the value and importance of really connecting with our kids. Whether they’re little or whether they’re teens, really connecting with them more emotionally so that they feel heard, they feel understood, that they feel validated, that their concerns, their anxieties, their fears, their worries are normalized,” Mason explained.
The counselling centre puts together a variety of workshops for kids, teens and adults, working on everything from self-esteem to assertiveness to mindfulness.
And it’s never too early to reach out for support. According to a new report released last week by The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care, unmet mental health care needs like depression and anxiety cost the Canadian economy tens of billions of dollars per year in lost productivity.
The report shows many working Canadians can’t work full-time or even part-time because their mental health care needs aren’t taken care of. Workers in service-producing industries felt they have the greatest need for mental health care, the report claims.
Mason says at the counseling centre they’re pushing to reduce the stigma of mental illness. She says having employers and coworkers who understand mental health and aren’t afraid to speak up about it is incredibly important for any work environment.
“And then supporting people to get that support because the support is there, it’s available to them. It’s getting people to reach out and accessing that support. Flexibility in the workplace is obviously a great bonus if it’s there and available for people to be able to work around different needs or pressures and demands that are in their life. Having supervisors that get it and understand it I think is so much important,” Mason said.
They offer support through the workplace by going into businesses when asked and giving discussions on mental health and work stresses. She says they’ve expanded their workshop series this year to try to teach and reach the public.
And for the little ones who returned to school this week or went for the first time, easing their fears is all about making a connection. She says whatever parents can do to ease the transition will help, like making a routine and sticking to it.
Also, giving their children 100 per cent of their attention for even five minutes to listen about their day, instead of listening while they’re cooking dinner or checking emails.
“I think the worst thing we can do as parents and caregivers is laugh about some of their fears when we might think they’re silly – they’re really not for kids,” Mason said.
Counsellors are active in the local elementary schools and high schools and she says the teachers are great at responding to more serious anxiety and mental health concerns. Working collaboratively with the family, counselors, school support people and the student to develop a plan to make the transition more comfortable is an important step.
“I think we do need to always be alert and be open to and listening and watching for signs that there may be something bigger that we do need to attend to and we do need to problem solve with,” Mason said.
For a full list of Woolwich Counselling Centre’s workshops visit www.woolwichcounselling.org.