Youth mental health program to adapt to changes in budget

  • Jul. 8, 2015 3:28 p.m.

Over the last year, students of the Red Deer Public School District (RDPSD) have taken part in a proactive mental health initiative – the Resiliency Project – that now faces change after the loss of funding from the Government of Alberta.

The program faces the loss of the research component that has been orchestrated by University of Alberta psychiatry professor Dr. Peter Silverstone, made possible through government funding.

Dr. Silverstone developed a screening program that uses an iPad to ask questions of students that would help identify struggles in the areas of depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance misuse, quality of life and self-esteem.

“The components of the program are not at all lost – the piece we’re losing is the research component. We don’t have the capacity to facilitate that research, and that’s the piece that the University of Alberta (Silverstone) was adding to the program,” said Piet Langstraat, superintendent of RDPSD.

The Resiliency Program will move forward over the next year with modifications. All RDPSD high school staff now include the position of a community liaison worker.

“What I look forward to with our community liaison worker positions is that those individuals, along with our school counselors and others, will be able to support students and families. The liaison workers will help the families to get out into the community to find the supports they need,” Langstraat said.

Community liaison workers will work with project partners Alberta Health Services (AHS) mental health and the Red Deer Primary Care Network (PCN) to help students and families access appropriate services to deal with mental health issues.

Bev Manning, chair of the Red Deer Public School Board, said the spark that ignited the program originally occurred several years ago, when the Red Deer community was shaken by a number of student suicides.

“There are questions and a desire to do something different and positive that come out of a community after something like that. I think our community did a great job responding to it, but one of the things we recognized as a school district was that we needed to be more proactive with student mental health,” she said.

“It’s not good enough to just react when something tragic happens – it doesn’t necessarily have to be something tragic, either. Individuals struggle with mental health issues every day, and we want to be more aware of that.”

This conversation led to a collaborative project involving the U of A, Red Deer PCN, AHS, and RDPSD. The U of A drove the iPad research program, which collected data as well as identified at-risk students and the Red Deer Public School Board began implementing more modules and information about mental health awareness.

This screening and information sharing process helps to identify students who are at risk. The students are then connected to community agencies through the community liaison workers.

“We’re working to continue to provide this program as much as we can – we don’t want to see it go. Piet Langstraat has figured out some ways to modify and continue some of that stuff, but I’m anxious that we don’t lose the research portion of the project. That’s going to give us the hard data as the whether or not this is effective,” Manning said.

“Last year, the project provided a really good, grassroots opportunity to get those conversations going in the school. There were a lot of conversations that happened in the school, as well as at home, between student and parent. That is just fantastic and we need to grow that.

“I’m hopeful that at some point in the near future we’ll hear about funding for the program, and then we can get into full swing with it again.”