Illustration: Jeffrey Liu

For decades, mental health was shrugged off as a secondary concern. Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks were dismissed as emotional phases and despite studies proving otherwise, the attitude remained prevalent for years afterward. As a result, many suffering from mental health issues struggled in silence, too scared to ask for help, or dismissive of their symptoms.

Such stigma is particularly dangerous for high school students. With increasing academic and social pressure, high school represents the most at-risk period for mental health issues. As recently as 2016, more than one in every five youth aged 13 to 18 have contemplated suicide [1]. What’s worse is that although attitudes regarding mental health had begun to change, resources available were evolving far too slowly to accommodate the alarming increases in stress and anxiety levels.

A sober moment came with the suicide of a Grade 11 MGCI student over the March Break of 2016. For many, it was an awakening as to just how prevalent mental issues can be, and sadly, that message is never as effective as when it happens to someone you know. Moreover, the event was a warning sign of the significance of mental health and stressed the need for immediate action.

The issue is far from exclusive to Garneau; the results of the 2011 TDSB census marked a red flag regarding student well-being in the city. Among the findings of the study was the revelation that 46% of high school students had no adult whom they felt comfortable going to for advice, support, or help [2]. In response, the TDSB mandated that every high school create a Caring and Safe School Committee responsible for “fostering a safe, inclusive, and accepting school climate.” [3] MGCI’s Caring and Safe School Committee is made up of Principal Ms. Goldenberg, Vice-Principal Ms. O’Flynn-Wheeler, guidance counsellor Ms. Jamal, Ms. Brennan, Ms. Bruce, Ms. Ali, Nicole D’Souza, SAC President Lisa Wang, Faiyazul Hoque, Malika Shah, and Sumaira Tariq. The committee plays an important role in tackling the issue of mental health, allowing students, staff, parents, and community members to work together towards a solution.

Despite the slowly increasing attention paid to the mental health of students, there is still work to be done. MGCI guidance counsellor Ms. Jamal admits that while mental health continues to grow as an issue, it often remains neglected: “It feels like there is increasing pressure to be the best, or to be good at everything. And at the same time, there is less emphasis on learning coping skills and having more downtime.”


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It’s not that there are no resources. Kids Help Phone, a charity founded in 1989, provides telephone counselling services to youth across the province. Other organizations such as Distress Centres of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children provide similar services. Within Garneau itself, students have access to numerous services as well. These include two youth outreach workers, therapists, social workers, and the school’s guidance counsellors. At any given time, there is a vast number of resources available, free of charge, be it in-person or online, at school or in the community.

Unfortunately, Ms. O’Flynn-Wheeler says, one of the major concerns is that students simply don’t know where they can get help: “We have a huge embarrassment of riches [an abundance of resources], but most students don’t know where to find it [them].” Faiyazul Hoque, the President of Mind Your Mind, a mental health-focused club at Garneau, and a member of the Caring and Safe Schools Committee, agrees that a prominent issue is the lack of awareness towards available resources. “We first saw that the main problem was that people didn’t know that there was help available for them,” Faiyazul said, adding that students that need help are more likely to reach out if they understand the resources at their disposal.

The distribution of wristbands and information cards by Mind Your Mind looked to address this concern. Containing the slogan “#InItTogether,” the wristbands served as a reminder of the widespread support system available at Garneau; the information cards detailed these resources, listing the various services offered inside and outside of the school. Both items were handed out at recent school-wide events, including the Semester 2 Clubs Fair, and the cards have since been posted in classrooms throughout the school.

Another issue was getting students recognize the importance of their own mental health and take small steps to maintain their well-being. To combat this issue, Mind Your Mind has organized various workshops to help students de-stress over the course of the school year. The workshops invite experts from the community to lead activities varying from yoga to slime making to crystal bowl meditation, all designed to help students take a break from the stresses of school. The club has also created a student safetalk group, for students who may feel more comfortable opening up to their peers. At the moment, they are working alongside the Caring and Safe Schools committee to create a bulletin board that will feature information on how and where to find help. The board, which is expected to be finished by the end of April, will be located in the galleria.

Art Council has also been involved in the school’s mental health initiatives. For this year’s project, they designed a mural with the theme of mental health. President Shuyi Wang said, “We wanted to raise more awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma around it. Our mural design shows a staircase towards mental health and has basic advice for students written on each step.” The mural provides acknowledgement that mental health is a problem, one that can no longer be overlooked.

A wristband handed out by Mind Your Mind raising awareness of mental health support at Garneau. Photo: Matthew Tse

An increasing amount of awareness and acknowledgement remains pivotal in addressing youth mental health issues. More than that, Ms. Jamal says, it’s important that mental health is recognized for its essential role in our overall well-being: “We know that we need to take care of our physical health, even if we don’t always do it, but it’s easy to forget we also need to take care of our mental health.”

To any student reading, invest the time to look after your mental health. This might mean watching a trashy rom-com to make you smile, going on a run to clear your head, or just singing along to your favourite tunes—whatever works for you.

But if you are ever struggling, don’t hesitate—reach out. We’re in it together.