A higher rate of SD78 students are struggling with mental health issues, according to data from SD78 that shows more youth accessing the district’s special education resources. (Pixabay)

A higher rate of SD78 students are struggling with mental health issues, according to data from SD78 that shows more youth accessing the district’s special education resources. (Pixabay)

More students seeking mental health support, says SD78 school board

Assistant superintendent says SD78 has more special education assistants per capita than others

Special education needs are growing faster than School District 78 Fraser Cascade’s (SD78) student population, according to SD78 assistant superintendent Kevin Bird.

The number of students enrolled in SD78 increased by two per cent this year while the number of youth accessing special education services increased by nine per cent.

Bird said the two per cent increase in student numbers is a lot for the district but SD78 had predicted growth and remains prepared for more.

“That is right in keeping with the forecast. There’s no surprises,” he said. “That makes planning ahead fairly easy. For instance, the board built two new classrooms at Kent Elementary. Those types of investments are done based on these predictions.”

Related: SD78 school board trustee takes medical leave

But along with enrollment growth, Bird noted an increase in special needs numbers, and more specifically, the need for mental health services.

“I think it’s pretty common across the province to see that anxiety is a large issue for many of our students,” Bird said. “There’s no doubt that for us, per capita, our numbers are moving up.”

Right now, students receiving special education account for approximately 10 to 12 per cent of the district’s student population.

Bird said services provided by SD78 are determined on a case by case basis and most students receive an individualized plan. For some students that’s a child care councillor, while others may work with the district’s youth mental health partner groups like Agassiz Harrison Community Services.

“It depends on what the individual needs, but there is a wide spectrum of services,” he said.

Over time, SD78’s mental health services have increased. Every school has on site child care councillors and special education assistants.

“Services have definitely increased because the need has increased,” he said. “We have way more special education assistants per capita than many other districts, and that’s all because of the need level we see in our classrooms. And we want our teachers and our students to be supported.”

Related: Alt-ed program brings mindfulness to the classroom

Agassiz Centre for Education (ACE) administrator Sandy Balascak says many of her student’s behavioural issues stem from mental health issues, but she doesn’t think actual cases of anxiety have increased.

“I think the difference now is that we have created a climate where they are willing to talk about and identify those issues rather than just acting out,” Balascak wrote in an email to the Observer. “We have worked to get them comfortable with recognizing the issues and defining them without stigma. Speaking for our school, I can say that we have always had a high number of kids with anxiety, but few of them would have admitted it in the past; whereas most are very open about it now.”

But anxiety disorders in youth aren’t always properly addressed, or addressed at all.

Dr. Ashley Miller, a BC Children’s Hospital child and adolescent psychiatrist with a specialty in mood and anxiety disorders, said it is difficult to determine if the rate of anxiety disorders is increasing or if people are simply being diagnosed more frequently.

Either way, extreme anxiety can be crippling in combination with the demands of youth.

“If you have an anxiety disorder on top of the normal changes and stresses of adolescence, it certainly makes the transition years – especially grade eight, going into high school, or grade 12, leaving high school – more difficult,” Miller said.

And anxiety doesn’t always appear as nervousness or apprehension.

Two common expressions of anxiety in teens or youth are refusals and anger outbursts.

“Often you’ll see refusals to do something or kids saying they don’t like something anymore,” Miller explained. “It’s possible they just don’t like it, but it’s also possible they’ve become anxious about some aspect of it…For example, a kid says, ‘I’m not doing my math homework.’ It’s more likely that they feel overly challenged and are scared they can’t overcome [math] then they just don’t want to do it.”

Teens are known for having an ‘attitude’ but sometimes, outbursts of anger or frustration are hiding anxiety disorders.

“When kids are trying not to show their vulnerability and that they are actually scared about something, they get angry or frustrated that people aren’t behaving in the way they need them to,” Miller said.

She emphasized that anxiety is completely normal and something all humans experience. It’s only when anxiety starts creating dysfunction that it needs to be addressed.

A number of online resources such as AnxietyCanada.com, FoundryBC.ca, KeltyMentalHealth.ca provide resources for youth and families dealing with mental health issues like anxiety. Another option is the Breathr app – created for youth to develop ‘mindfulness’ for managing difficult or stressful situations.

Basic factors like sleep, screen time, exercise and the amount of time spent outdoors can make a huge difference, but one of the best ways to move forward is communication.

“Anxiety disorders and problems are very common and the best thing to do is talk openly about it,” Miller said. “Whether it’s a child talking to a parent…teachers [or] educators and finding the help if it’s needed.”



nina.grossman@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

(Maps.Chilliwack.com)
RCMP seek dash-cam footage after Chilliwack road rage incident

Male driving a black pickup stopped and allegedly threatened to punch another driver

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Agassiz toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Woody’s RV World hosts a grand opening for its brand-new Abbotsford location on Saturday. (YouTube)
Woody’s RV World hosts Abbotsford grand opening on Saturday

First-ever B.C. location for successful RV chain, located on Marshall Road

Special weather statement issued for Fraser Valley as first summer heat arrives June 20, 2021, and set to persist all week. (Photo by James Day on Unsplash)
Second day of hot temperatures rippling across Fraser Valley

Communities from Abbotsford to Hope will see daytime high maximum temps of 32 degrees

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctos urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

The Coquihalla Lakes washroom is getting upgrades. (Submitted)
Coquihalla to get upgrades to aging washrooms

The Ministry of Transportation is providing $1 million in funding to upgrade 3 rest areas

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Most Read