Heads Up

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Message from Scott Cowie, Head, Senior Division

Scott Cowie

Upcoming Senior Division Dates:

  • Monday, May 8: Friday May 12: IB2 Exams continue
  • Monday, May 8: Extended Essay Day (no classes for IB1 students)
  • Tuesday, May 9: Extended Essay final version due

We kicked off our recognition of Mental Health Week on Monday morning with an assembly address by Old Boy Zach Schwartz ’05. I knew Zach well when he was a student here. Indeed, everyone knew Zach. He was a very good student who contributed much to our community and had a reputation for his amicable, warm personality. Zach was very well-spoken back then and remains so, as was proven through his talk. (The full speech can be watched here.)

With much courage and wisdom, Zach shared his personal story of dealing with depression and anxiety during his first few years of university. He spoke of gains made in the world of mental health awareness, especially in recent years, but acknowledged we still have much we can do with regard to eliminating existing stigmas for those struggling with social and emotional illnesses. To drive this point home, Zach highlighted the stark contrast in the way we speak about physical ailments as compared to conditions related to mental health. He reminisced about a comment from a friend who, in a compassionate way, said something to the effect of, “Why would Zach be depressed? He’s got nothing to be down about.” Zach astutely pointed out that if he was suffering from a physical ailment, his friend likely wouldn’t have asked, “Why does Zach have diabetes?” or “Why does Zach have cancer?”

I spoke with a colleague later the same day about this point. He noted how we wouldn’t think twice about telling someone, even a stranger, that we were feeling under the weather with a cold, but that we would be very reluctant to tell that same person that we were experiencing anxiety, or were feeling a little down.

Statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association reveal how pervasive challenges around mental health are: “1 in 5 Canadians will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives.” Given these figures, the chances of knowing someone who is suffering in some way right now are very high.

In order to be able to effectively support our friends and family members who may be struggling, we must first be able to recognize signs of distress. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week a few years ago, I came across a resource from one of its primary sponsors that might be of help to parents and others in identifying signals that may be indicators of one who is experiencing some form of mental illness:

-Mood changes/swings: Persistent sadness or withdrawal.
-Anxiety: Frequent, prolonged worrying.
-Sudden change in grades: Poor concentration can lead to anxiety about going to school or a change in classroom success.
-Heightened emotions: Exaggerated fear or anger for seemingly no reason.
-Behavioural changes or acting out: Out-of-character changes in behaviour or personality.

Of all the supportive strategies to help address matters of mental health, perhaps the most simple (yet most effective) involve keeping an open mind and starting an open dialogue. Talking to one another about mental illness is a necessary step in the process of normalizing what statistics reveal is a very common condition for many, but one that still isn’t openly discussed to the extent it should.

It’s time we recognize those suffering in silence and commit to doing what we can to free them from the oppression of age-old stigmas and prejudices. As a start, I encourage you to talk with your son about the powerful message delivered by Zach this week.

Thanks for reading,