With school back in full swing, it had me thinking about my high school years. Looking back on it now, I realize I must have had some very strong protective factors around me. Sure, I felt awkward, fearful, not as pretty as the pretty girls, and I really really really wanted people to like me! But none of those things brought about the need for any serious interventions, counseling, medication, or supports outside of my family.
Given this state of safety I lived in, and the fact that A LOT of time has passed between my high school years and now, I don’t think that I can speak for the youth in our community; nor should I. They have a voice of their own, an experience that none of us could truly understand, as well, they have gifts and knowledge to share with us that we will only hear if we let them speak.
“For those who may not be clinically struggling, please understand, mental health affects everyone, so be patient. People can be seemingly rude and do stupid things when they are down so try your best to reach out to any one you think might be having a hard time, or at least be considerate and give them time.”
This is just one piece of wisdom that was passed on to me while I was at Revelstoke Secondary School (RSS) on Tuesday, Sept. 4 for their first day back.
This is where I met Jack. I was sitting at my booth, fidgeting with the pamphlets on my table, looking for a familiar face. I couldn’t believe it… I was immediately transported back to my first day at school and all the jitters that came with that experience. Then Jack showed up and said he was going to be sharing the info table with me. My heart lightened (slightly). Even Jack’s presence helped me feel a bit more comfortable without him needing to say anything.
“I’ve had to be the new kid twice now so I really know how awful this can feel! In my old town, I had to got to middle school and be the new kid there and then when I moved to Revelstoke I had to do it all over again. It sucks.”
If Jack had to do it twice and survived, I supposed I could do it, too. Jack was preparing to speak in front of the school – again, making me feel more comfortable as I, too had to say a speech. Our messages of love and support seemed to line up and it was incredible hearing the words of a youth echo what it has taken me 35 years to learn. His message was so insightful, on-point, and direct, I knew it had to be heard by more than just the students, teachers, and administrators at RSS.
When Jack is introduced to give his speech, there is huge applause from the students – I’m beginning to understand more about this student community and how accepting they can be of people who open up about their situation like Jack. It’s almost as if him coming forward and talking about his own struggles has turned what could have been some very awkward, uncomfortable years, into a time filled with acceptance and love.
He starts with “it’s pretty bizarre I’m standing in front of you to talk since I have anxiety” followed by an awkward chuckle. “Hello everyone. My name is Jack and.. and today I just wanted…wanted to talk a bit about mental health and well-being.” As Jack stumbles through the beginning, he becomes quieter and quieter. “As teenagers, we… we take on so much on a day to day basis”. Eventually he stops, hands the mic back to the other student MC’s and heads out of the gym. Before he goes, the principle offers to read Jack’s speech and he agrees.
Even through the voice of Greg Kenyon (the Principal at RSS), Jack’s message, genuine heart and hopes for the students at RSS are not lost. Here is Jack’s message for the student body, and, I believe, our community as a whole.
“Hello everyone! I’m Jack and today I just wanted to talk a bit about mental health and well being. As teenagers we take on so much on a day to day basis: things like outrageous workloads, from school to work to extracurriculars. High School also has an absurd social dynamic, which can make it hard for anyone to make friends, and even harder to experience genuine connections. There is also Social media toxicity (I’m not even going to try to unpack that). And not to mention our developing brain, and dealing with things like sexuality and self identity. So of course everyone will deal with stress and anxiety. But I want you to know, if you currently are seriously dealing with depression and anxiety you are not alone. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep up the same grades that you normally do or reach your goals when you are feeling down. What is most important is taking care of yourself and not getting angry with yourself. Take care of your basic needs first like hygiene, sleep and food. These small things can make a huge difference. And do activities that make you happy. Also get the help you need, because you deserve it. There are people who care, like friends, family and teachers. Trust me, you are going to find people in this school who care, you might just not have met them yet, but you will.
Other advice: Find a place you feel comfortable, this could be joining something like Student leadership or joining a sport. At lunch make sure you have an area you can go if you can’t find your friends, like a classroom or the library, or the art room, or the music room, or even just going outside. If you need more support, book an appointment with your counselor, call the community connections building or visit their website or book an appointment with your family doctor. Getting things like therapy and psychologists or other help you need can be hard and stressful, but talking about it can be a great first step in getting you the help you need.
For those who may not be clinically struggling, please understand, mental health affects everyone, so be patient. People can be seemingly rude and do stupid things when they are down so try your best to reach out to any one you think might be having a hard time, or at least be considerate. If a friend comes to you with problems make sure to listen and be understanding, and show that you care and have their back. Make sure to really ask questions and listen and try to hear what they’re going through instead of giving advice like “oh you should sleep more” or “have you tried this?”
Mental health is a real and serious issue, it’s something we all have to be aware of and not shy away from talking about. If you are suffering with anxiety and depression I want you to know you are not alone, there are caring and good people in this community who want to help you and if you need support, there are options.
You matter and you deserve to feel happy.
Thank you and have a great year everyone.”
Hearing these words coming from Jack, he has become my symbol of hope for the school, for our community, and for the future. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.
To get in touch with a school counselor, call you school. Revelstoke Secondary School 250-837-2173, or Elementary School 250-837-3085
Community Connections: 250-837-2920
Crisis line: call 1-800-668-6868 or text HOME to 686868
Other online resources: MindHealthBC.ca, and RevelstokeCYMHSU.ca
There is help and support. Reach out and talk to someone.
You’re not alone!