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Blog: Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Are we the source of student mental health challenges?

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

In the hope of provoking reflection and discourse, I have decided this week to wade into the world of youth mental health, wellness and resilience. I start by saying that I am no expert in this field, though I have spent a sizable portion of my career working with students with mental health and behavior challenges. These interactions have certainly shaped my perspective. I will also start by saying that this provocation is inspired by a presentation I recently attended from Dr. Stan Kutcher.

In the name of being economical with my words let me cut to the chase with a few of Dr. Kutcher’s key messages:

  • Limited Vocabulary: Dr. Kutcher said that few of us know what is meant by the terms like ‘mental health’, ‘mental wellness’, and ‘mental illness’. As a consequence, we sometimes carelessly throw these terms out without understanding the ramifications. He shared some very interesting definitions being used out there by so-called experts and suggested that they reinforce our limited understanding of mental wellness. He offers this definition as a starting point: mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with people and the ability to change and cope with adversity.
     
  • We are Being Duped: Dr. Kutcher provided some compelling evidence that health and wellness are the next “trillion-dollar industry”. He offered examples of some of the things we do, and the products we buy, all in the name of being well, and suggested that many people are getting rich from our hyper-concern for mental wellness (Think twice the next time you see some wellness juice in the health food store).
     
  • Medicalization: Dr. Kutcher argues that our society has over-diagnosed the typical psychological challenges we face every day. He claimed that because we don’t know the difference between stress and distress that the two have become conflated, and we have pathologized normal (and necessary) human emotions. He argues that the issues you face are not medical, but cultural. We have been complicit in cushioning our kids from the challenges they ought to face and overcome to be well functioning human beings. We have forgotten that stress is merely a part of life.
     
  • You Don’t Need a Program: Dr. Kutcher also said that to teach kids to be resilient, we don’t need an expensive mental health program; we need to show them how to live, to embrace challenge and negative emotions as a natural part of life. The supports he offers include improving the mental health literacy of our youth so they know the difference (for instance) between sadness (which is natural) and depression (which is clinical).
     
  • Grandma’s Rules: Below is some of Dr. Kutcher’s advice. Ironically, this is the kind of advice that your grandmother would give, and it makes a lot of sense to me.
    • Exercise regularly
    • Get adequate sleep (8-10 hours per day)
    • Eat properly (5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day)
    • Seek help from those who care for you when you need it
    • Help others when they need help

I will also state that I bring a particular bias to this conversation. The most influential people in my life (my mother, and various coaches) were pretty tough-minded people who expected me to be the same, and for the most part it worked. It does make me wonder if we have lost our way in raising our kids, and if Dr. Kutcher’s advice is the primary fix to a problem that we have created, and are overthinking?

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.