children and youth in school

Children and youth living with mental illness who stay in school live healthier physical, social and emotional lives. For many, however, going to school and staying in school are the biggest challenges they face. Schools and the other children who attend them can be extremely overwhelming for a student living with mental illness.

Many mental illnesses have natural cycles. As a result, the child’s ability to function can vary greatly at different times throughout the day, season and school year making things even more difficult. Students living with mental illness may function very well for months or years and then suddenly run into difficulties. Families can do a great deal to help ensure that their child receives support in school and has a positive, productive experience.

In Nova Scotia, school boards across the province are making changes to better support children and youth living with mental illness and those at risk. These changes are being made because of a recent provincial inquiry, the Nunn Commission of Inquiry. The Commission has made 34 recommendations on how the school system and other public services can better support children and youth. As a result, schools are focusing more on keeping children and youth in school, improving daily attendance, and education for teachers on helping students living with mental illness. For more information on the Nunn Commission of Inquiry, visit www.nunncommission.ca

Problems children and youth living with mental illness may experience in school:

Assess strengths and incorporate them wherever possible

There is no doubt parents of children living with mental illness face unique challenges. Teachers can face some of these same challenges, especially when it comes to disruptive behaviours. Sometimes, “negative” behaviours can overshadow a child’s positive behaviours or strengths. Every child has strengths. Remembering your child’s strengths will help you and your child. Some examples of strengths are listed below.

Supporting your child in school

You can play a crucial role in the planning of your child’s education. To do so, you need to work closely with your child’s teachers, principal and other administrators. You also need to be informed and knowledgeable about the school’s and school board’s programs for students with special needs. Become a partner with the professionals involved in your child’s education. While they may be the experts on learning, you are the expert on your child.

Communicating well with your child’s school is essential to the success of your child’s education. Keeping the lines of communication open can go a long way in resolving problems early. Your child’s teacher should be your first point of contact with the school.

When parents are included as partners in their child’s education, positive and essential changes can occur, for instance:

Questions you may want to discuss with your child’s teachers

Questions you may want to discuss with your child about their school experience

For information on mental health services and supports for youth and children, visit www.iwk.nshealth.ca.