I’m not a teacher or support staff employee. While I can try to relate to what the education sector workplace might be like, I can’t even fathom the complications of population that includes children as young as 4 or 5 years old, to children hitting puberty, to teenagers who are beginning to shape their views of the world. Add to this mix the complications of living in a digital age that seems to speed up the maturation of youth by making content of any type available on-demand in the palm of their hands—and I absolutely cannot appreciate the unique challenges of the typical education sector workplace.
What I can share is some perspective about the changing face of health challenges for not only specific students or a given classroom, but on young Albertans in the overall education sector workplace. That this impacts you as an employee in this field is certain.
The State of Student Mental Health
Cubic Health has recently partnered with ASEBP to look at the health issues impacting young Albertans, and how these issues are evolving. Our findings around the prevalence of depression in students was eye opening. After looking at a representative sample of over 13,000 young Albertans between the ages of 6 – 19 over a 36-month period, it became clear that depression in students has, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the sector now and in the coming years.
Our findings indicated definitively that the overall number of children being treated for depression increased between 2012 and 2014, most especially in children between the ages of 13-19.
- 7% of children between the ages of 13 – 16 are actively being treated for depression—a 29% increase since 2012.
- 4% of children between the ages of 16 – 19 are actively being treated for depression—a 24% increase since 2012.
Of course all depressive conditions are not created equally. There is a subset of depression referred to as Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD)—essentially more challenging cases that do not adequately respond to traditional antidepressant therapy. Our study results were alarming, indicating that:
- TRD cases in those aged 6 – 13 increased by 80% since 2012.
- TRD cases in those aged 13 – 16 increased by 19% since 2012.
- TRD cases in those aged 16 – 19 increased by 36% since 2012.
These figures are remarkable when we consider that antidepressant therapy is generally avoided at all costs in children under the age of 18. Therefore, these are presumably cases where the risks of not treating the condition with medication therapy are greater than starting antidepressant therapy.
The Path Forward
What does this mean for your and education sector employees’ wellness as you deal with student health issues that are growing in complexity every year? Obviously this is a larger issue than we’re able to resolve in a blog but, as Shandy Reed pointed out in an earlier blog, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. And there’s no time like the present to get started. A few things to keep in mind:
- Knowledge is power. Armed with this information, there can be no denying that this is a growing issue that will certainly affect you and your workplace.
- Manage what you can. As a wellness champion, your goal is to promote workplace wellness among your colleagues. Healthy employees will be far better equipped to support and model positive behaviour to students—the impact of trickle-down effect (for both positive and negative behaviours) cannot be underestimated.
- Focus on mental health. The increases in incidences of depression is not limited to students. If your wellness committee is considering areas to focus on, you won’t go wrong by putting your energies here. Check out this forum post for ideas on mental health awareness activities and leave your own comments if you’ve undertaken an initiative in the past.
- Small changes reap big rewards. There is no place that is too small to start. Even something as simple as regularly sharing mental health self-care tips at a staff meeting, starting a book or walking club can be the impetus for big, positive changes for your colleagues. The Canadian Mental Health Association has a number of fantastic ideas that can help you either start thinking about or move your existing workplace mental health programs along.
It’s a safe bet that workplace mental health is either on your radar or will be in the very near future. Learning more about how increasing mental health issues faced by the children in your schools affect staff, and having a plan to implement incremental, positive changes that support staff mental health are both outstanding places to start.
So tell me, has anyone been part of a successful campaign to bring awareness to the issue of mental health in your school community? What was your approach? Did you have a go-to resource to help generate ideas? Share what you learned with your friends in The Sandbox!