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Students under pressure

BAM for Youth calls for more mental health help in schools

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 24, 2014 06:00 am

YOUTH TALK – BAM members, left to right: Cassidy Morris, Carly Lohmeier, Ryley Fetter and Sydney Parkinson discuss issues faced by St. Albert teens.
YOUTH TALK – BAM members, left to right: Cassidy Morris, Carly Lohmeier, Ryley Fetter and Sydney Parkinson discuss issues faced by St. Albert teens.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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School is supposed to be about making friends and having fun.

So why is it so darn stressful?

Four local students talked to a handful of parents about peer relationships Wednesday at Servus Place as part of the Youth Talking to You project. Put on by Building Assets and Memories (BAM), the talk was the last in a series of sessions meant to give parents a youth’s insight into student life.

School is a place where students constantly think about their relationships with others, says Ben Huising, BAM co-ordinator – how they’re perceived, who they should hook up with, who’s talking about them (and how).

“That’s a lot of questions to be going through your mind,” Huising says, and it happens all the time. That takes up a lot of mental energy and stress.

High school drama

Students are always expected to be either in, leaving, or looking for a romantic relationship, says student Sydney Parkinson.

“There’s always that expectation that something’s happening.”

On top of that comes pressure from other peers that judge your relationships.

“In some shape or form, every girl has been called a slut or a whore,” Parkinson says.

“If you hook up with a guy, you’re a slut. If you’re dating a guy, you’re a slut. If you’re not doing anything, you’re still a slut, or you’re frigid.”

Men have a lot more leeway in this regard, says student Ryley Fetter. Still, they’re expected to be always after a girl, with their social status determined by the number of relations they have. Those that don’t play the field are denounced as gay.

There’s no real way to avoid these insults, says fellow student Cassidy Morris. But if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, then it shouldn’t matter what other people think.

Don’t do something that you don’t feel ready to do when it comes to relationships, Fetter adds. If you feel pressured by your friends to play the field and don’t want to, it’s time to find new friends.

Need mental health support

The students say they spend a lot of their time coaching their friends through relationship troubles, either in person or through texts.

“If it’s a serious issue, you feel super-obligated to do something about it,” explains Morris, even if it has nothing to do with you.

But many students simply don’t know what to do in those situations, the students say. Do they call an adult? A counsellor? Or, as most do, do they stick to encouraging texts or emails?

Schools have greatly underestimated the need for mental health education for students, Parkinson says. She’s had about five drug and alcohol lectures at her school, for example, and none on mental health.

Counsellors need to get out and teach students how to handle mental health issues, Fetter says. He called for a series of talks modelled after the D.A.R.E. program on the subject.

As for parents, Morris says they need to create an environment of trust with their kids so students know they can talk to them about their troubles without fear of retribution.

Parenting doesn’t start when the problems start, Huising says – it starts way before.

“When the problems do come, if you don’t have that relationship with your child and there’s not that trust built, it’s going to be very difficult to have a conversation.”

Parents shouldn’t scale back their involvement with their kids as they grow older, Parkinson says – you almost have to get more involved, in fact.

“Whether we want to admit it or not, we still need help.”

Fetter says the team plans to hold more talks this fall in schools, likely targeted at teachers.

Huising says he’s disappointed at the turnout for the talks so far – they’ve never had more than 10 people – but sees this as a start.

“The message is so important and people need to hear it.”


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