High school students host mental health symposium

GUELPH – A recent mental health event made students feel seen and it showed them they’re not alone in their struggles.

That’s what Grade 11 student Kellyanne Mangali said of the May 30 symposium organized by Wellington Catholic District School Board student senators.

About 60 students in Grades 9 through 12 from Our Lady of Lourdes, Bishop Macdonell, St. James and St. John Bosco Catholic high schools went to the symposium at the Catholic Education Centre.

The students spent the morning attending workshops led by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Grove Hubs Wellington Guelph and school social workers.

Workshop topics included relationships and boundary setting, negative and positive impacts of social media, academic stress, and perfectionism and anxiety.

Student trustee and Grade 12 Bishop Mac student Vivian Huynh said peers told her they got a lot out of the workshops, and they hadn’t done anything like it before.

In the afternoon students participated in discussion-generating activities run by Grade 11 incoming student senators Adriana Richards (Bishop Mac) and Eden Kisakye (St. James).

Discussion topics included what students would like to see change at their schools regarding mental health and wellness, said Grade 12 St. James senator Alexandra Johnson.

The symposium was the senators’ legacy project – an annual project “taken on by the student senate to try and better our school communities,” explained student trustee and Our Lady of Lourdes Grade 12 student Jack Zamin.

It was Zamin’s idea to focus on mental health for the project.

The senate has frequent conversations about students’ mental health, senator and Grade 12 Bishop Mac student Emma Graham told the Advertiser.

It was Huynh’s idea to make the project a symposium.

She thought “let’s come together, learn about something, and debate about it, as we would in class,” in an effort to destigmatize talking about mental health and asking for help.

When the senate began discussing the symposium idea in March, it seemed like a bit of a pipe dream to organize such a big event so quickly, Huynh noted.

But they decided to make it happen, so each student senator took on an organizing role.

They reached out to community groups, asking about mental health supports for students, Graham explained.

Representatives from community organizations set up tables during the symposium and shared information about what they offer, including CMHA, Grove Hubs, Homewood Health Centre, YMCA, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, Goodlife Fitness and the Guelph Black Heritage Society.

The senators had support from the board’s mental heath lead Sony Brar and communications lead Ali Lupal in setting things up, Huynh noted.

For Graham, the highlight of the event was the level of student engagement, right from the start of the day.

“The CMHA led a dance at the beginning to get everyone warmed up,” she said, and the senators had worried the students wouldn’t want to join in, “but everyone did.”

For Zamin, the highlight was seeing the senate’s hard work pay off.