Medicine Hat News

Notre Dame working with peer-to-peer mental health program

SAMANTHA JOHNSON Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Notre Dame Academy recently partnered with a suicide peer-to-peer intervention program for schools and community called Community Helpers Program through Alberta Health Services.

Jess Weatherhead, the Community Helpers Program co-ordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association, stated, “These guys are the front runners for picking up the program and partnering with it to really show how, from a community standpoint, we can all contribute to ending suicides within the community.”

The program was delivered to all Grade 7-9 classrooms throughout the school, a total of 14 classes with about 350 students being certified.

“We really noticed that kids in their time of need, whether it’s dealing with mental health issues, their worries or anxieties, aren’t talking to adults about it, they are going to each other,” explained principal Neal Siedlecki. “They are counselling each other through some of the toughest times of their lives. That is why when Jess approached us with her program, we felt it was a good fit with the need we saw with our kids.”

The program, which took a half day, was delivered to students between early October and concluded in early November, and Notre Dame will explore bringing it back in future years. The essentials of the program were to teach the students how to respond and then lead the person struggling to the proper people for help.

“It was a good opportunity for us with our students to give the opportunity to have a safe and caring environment they could discuss hard topics in, stuff that not all of them were going through but some are and others will,” said Siedlecki. “For those kids who are going through it, it gave them the tools to help deal with the situations and how to get help and to involve adults. For those students maybe not in a situation, it gave them the preparation to understand where they can go for help or what are the proper channels.”

Learning support teacher Monique Hosanee added it was amazing to see comments from students in the evaluations. “Some of the students said after hearing about anxiety, ‘I wonder if I have anxiety,’ and that made them aware they also have the support to go access different people for help,” said Hosanee.

A mother who lost her son to suicide came to each class to share a survivor’s perspective, offering an emotional connection where students could experience the pain of how families are torn apart and never recover from a suicide loss.

Each student was asked to list 10-15 problems they see in their peer group, family, or at school. Each problem was broken down during the training to determine how to access help surrounding that conversation, supplying preventative measures to the students.

“It was a strength-based approach, so if they thought they were a good friend, good helper or a good listener, we enhanced all those natural skills they already have,” explained Weatherhead.





Alberta Newspaper Group