OCDSB Corner: Mental health and living through this state of emergency

Submitted by Justine Bell, OCDSB School Trustee for Somerset-Kitchissippi

We’ve heard many times about the importance of taking care of our mental health while living through this state of emergency. But what does that really mean for my child? For me?

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to their community.”  In the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) Mental Health Strategy, we outline that mental health and well-being are fundamental to student success and affect academic achievement and social-emotional development.

The thing is, we are not living with the normal stresses of life. As you all know, the province has issued a stay-at-home order and the extension of school closures in Ottawa. 

Coping right now is hard. Here is an example of how some alarm bells play out at our house (and with two parents working from home, we are privileged). It’s 1:56 p.m., we didn’t make it outside for lunch and it’s time to get my daughter back online. I have a meeting at 2 p.m. and my partner has informed me that he also has an urgent meeting. I can tell that my daughter has had enough and doesn’t want to go back online. Two minutes before my meeting, I notice myself snapping at my partner, “Can you please help?” My daughter picks up on the anxiety, and slams the computer shut. I breathe and I offer her video games after this session. It doesn’t work. Fast forward to the end of the day, I haven’t exercised, we ate macaroni for dinner and I’m feeling sad. I don’t feel like I was able to contribute productively on any front. I question whether I was able to help my daughter cope. 

So what do we do the next day? Try again. Make a yummy raspberry spinach smoothie, play “shovel the snow” at lunch break, talk about what we are grateful for and get to bed on time. 

Does any of this sound familiar? If you’re feeling like you aren’t coping, or if you see your child consistently disengaged, angry or exhausted, you can ask for help. I have. I reached out to my daughter’s educators and they forwarded me great resources. Our schools have a support system and mental health workers. You can check out the mental health page at OCDSB to learn more, and the School Mental Health Ontario website is great. There are helplines, articles on understanding anxiety during uncertain times, videos on social-emotional learning, breathing exercises, youth mental health resources and much more. 

I have also been invited to observe a few classes online, and I can confidently say our educators are working hard to find innovative ways to promote student mental health by creating safe, caring and inclusive learning environments online. 

Most of the advice I’ve read and heard from our educators centres on keeping it simple: Focus on healthy habits and routines, do things you enjoy, notice the good things and stay connected.

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