||Volume 26, Number 4, Jan./Feb. 2014
Mental Health: BCTF Research
Teachers as well as students suffer
by Charlie Naylor
Did you know that mental illness places a significant toll on the health and welfare of British Columbians? Consider the following:
- Estimated in any given year, 20% of British Columbians experience a mental illness.
- Mental illness is the third largest contributor to BC’s burden of disease—and the greatest contributor for people
- aged 15 to 34.
- Mental illnesses are leading causes of disability. The World Health Organization predicts that over the next 20 years, depression—not all mental illness—just depression will be the second greatest health burden on earth, the second after cardiovascular disease.
- International research shows that teachers are at high risk of stress-related disorders. The European Foundation, the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive, and COMPAS Inc. have conducted research showing that people employed in the health, education, and social service sectors experience high levels of stress due to the front-line work they do. And here in BC, the BCTF’s Salary Indemnity Plan (SIP) spends about $12 million a year supporting teachers suffering from mental illnesses.
Teachers also see their students exhibiting mental illness. Anxiety is becoming a growing problem affecting a student’s ability to concentrate on school work. Depression, eating disorders, and OCD–ODD,* rare in the past, are now more prevalent. And with cuts to school-based counsellors, teachers are often at a loss at how to proceed with these students.
Recognizing the significant and growing issue of mental illness in schools and society, the BCTF Executive Committee recently passed a comprehensive recommendation to address both teachers’ and students’ mental health.
Essentially, the BCTF has a two-pronged plan that focuses on teachers and students. We will focus on teachers’ mental health by examining Salary Indemnity Plan (SIP) data linked to mental illnesses and also provide locals and members with pertinent mental health information.
Secondly, the BCTF will focus on students’ mental health in a number of ways, including promoting the BCTF’s Teaching to Diversity web page, connecting members with a mental health discussion forum, advocating for mental health resources, and calling for the restoration of school counselor positions.
BCTF Research is analyzing data for every BC school district that shows wide disparities in SIP claims for mental disorders: Why do some districts have much higher claims than others? While we believe that some age and gender demographics are indicators, we are also considering other contractual and contextual factors, such as a member’s access to the number of accumulated sick days or the level of conflict in a district.
Several provincial specialist associations (PSAs) such as school counselors, learning assistance teachers, and alternate educators offer conference sessions on students’ mental health issues, while the BCTF Teaching to Diversity web page is developing a section on students’ mental health, with a range of resources and related links: bctf.ca/teachingtodiversity
Teachers Diana Mogensen and Lily Yiu (both BCTF members who teach at Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders’ Unit), and Dave Mackenzie, a Vernon school counselor who attends the BC School Mental Health Coalition Network, have campaigned for a greater recognition of mental health issues within the union.
The BCTF also hopes to connect with an upcoming “School Connectedness” initiative funded by the Ministry of Health. Students who are well connected or feel that they belong at their school are at lower risk of mental health disorders. This initiative will explore and document approaches to strengthening school connectedness for students. If you teach in a school where such initiatives are taking place, and wish to have your school considered for this project, please contact either Charlie Naylor in BCTF Research (email@example.com) or Dave Mackenzie (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the school counsellors’ PSA.
* OCD–ODD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder–Oppositional Defiance Disorder
Charlie Naylor, BCTF Researcher