Grade 8 students at Ecole Fox Run School will be fully informed community helpers by the end of the year.
The Alberta Health Service’s Community Helpers Program is a suicide prevention and mental health program with the purpose of enabling youth to be able to help their friends, connect their friends to resources, and break the stigma around mental health, suicide and seeking help, said Chelsey Lambert, AHS Community Helpers Program coordinator in Sylvan Lake.
The program can be delivered in a variety of forms, but the students at Fox Run have been receiving it in 35 minute sessions every Thursday since Nov. 14.
“Basically it’s a peer-to-peer helping program, so essentially the kids practice it mostly by having conversations,” said Lambert, adding they teach the kids how to talk about difficult topics.
“We teach them that it’s OK to talk about mental health and to talk about suicide,” added Lambert.
One of the program’s modules teaches a six step process of how and when to ask the right questions as well as how to respond or not respond.
The program also teaches kids to ask themselves these questions introspectively and notice when something is going wrong within themselves.
“It’s not in any way shape or form teaching them how to be counsellors or how to counsel their friends,” clarified Lambert. “It’s teaching them how to talk about difficult things and who they can go to when their friends need help, so it’s really heavy on connecting with resources.”
Lambert explained a reason it was decided to run the program over the course of a school year is the ability to build relationships and be a trusted resource for the students.
She says the kids look forward to the sessions every week, they value what the program has to say and they know where to find a trusted resources if the need arises.
Thus far the program has received positive feedback from the students, the teachers, the principals and the parents council, according to Lambert, who says she is happy with how it is going.
The decision to take the programs to Grade 8’s was based on being able to prepare them for high school.
Krista Carlson, FCSS youth services supervisor, says they wanted to prepare the kids for what is coming.
“When you move into high school life maybe becomes a little bit more stressful, there’s more pressure you’re putting on, you’re starting to think about your future,” explained Carlson.
Lambert added her target age group is 12-24, so the Grade 8’s are a good age group to get in with.
“Alberta has one of the highest provincial rates of youth suicide in Canada, so when we looked at those numbers that alone is a really important reason why we wanted that [program] here and why we wanted to start these kids as young as possible,” said Lambert.
She also stated suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth in the country.
The program is in Sylvan Lake due to a grant from Alberta Health Services of $171,000 over the course of three years.
This grant was specifically looking for rural communities to apply, said Carlson, with the program already running in centres such as Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary.
Lambert explained there are 26 sites across the province and they are servicing a total of 70 communities.
“For example, Sylvan Lake is one site, but I have the ability to do this program in Sylvan Lake, Eckville, Innisfail, Rocky Mountain House, Spruce View, Benalto, all the surrounding communities,” said Lambert, adding the goal would be to train people as facilitators who are in the schools all the time in those communities.
The program has the ability to delivered to other schools at any time with the potential to go into other Chinook’s Edge School Division classrooms or out into Eckville.
“The program is in 132 schools across the province and that’s junior high, middle school, high school and post-secondary,” she added.
The Community Helpers Program has also been taught to the Ecole HJ Cody School students who are a part of the mentoring programs.