the pandemic has brought mental health issues “to the forefront”

They say that laughter is the best medicine. Jessica Holmes, a longtime member of the comedian troupe The Royal Canadian Air Farce, kicked off the conference by sharing her own mental health struggles and ideas on how to stay resilient. She delivered anecdotes alternately hilarious and serious.

After the birth of her two children, Holmes realized that she was so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed. She joked that her husband’s response was, ‘You relax and unwind. And come down in five minutes and cook us breakfast.

The comedian said depression and burnout can be overcome over time. Exercise is one of the keys to maintaining mental health, she argued. “I would put on my exercise gear and swear to hit the gym and use that membership I bought 14 years ago. Then you sit down and watch TV in your gym clothes.

The conference brought together more than 300 international educators from school districts across the country. Speaker after speaker pointed out that the sector had been hit hard since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

“I was going to say it’s been a tough two years, but apparently that’s been said before,” joked Randall Martin, chief executive of the British Columbia Council for International Education.

“We take incoming students out of their culture and family support”

He held up a tote bag from the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference, which was due to be held in Vancouver in March but was moved online due to the pandemic. “I have 3,000 of these bags to give away,” he said.

Several sessions addressed the issue of student mental health, including identifying issues, offering support and reducing stigma. This is a big concern. Samantha Morneau of Student VIP Insurance says a survey of international students in Canada found that six out of 10 students experience wellness issues. About 30% suffer from a clinical or major depressive disorder. The vast majority of international students feel overwhelmed at some point in their studies.

Daniel To, District Superintendent of Surrey Schools, discussed eating disorders, noting that these are mental health issues, not physical ones. Its aim is that international educators can identify when students are struggling and may need professional help.

“Knowing your students is key,” he argued. He called on educators to understand each student’s cultural background when it comes to food and relate to them as individuals. Then schools should provide support and contact mental health experts if needed.

One of the barriers to helping students with mental health issues is that there is stigma in many countries and cultures. Sometimes parents send a student to Canada, hoping that a “fresh start” will help them overcome their illness. However, students may feel lonely and lack support upon arrival.

“We take incoming students out of their culture and family support and place them in a new environment,” said Mercedes Hayduk of Campbell River Schools International. “We provide them with a supportive environment, but it’s difficult.”

Hayduk noted the importance of educating foster families to notice and raise concerns about mental health. “They are on the front line with students and will be the first to notice behavioral changes.”

She emphasized that it is not necessary to use words like “anxiety” and “depression” with students. This can cause them to become withdrawn and increase mental health stigma. Instead, international educators can ask, “Are you feeling sad lately? »

“We are really happy that the pandemic has brought the problem to the fore”

Several school districts are actively working to provide more services. For example, the Sooke School District held a session to explain that they had hired a health and wellness coordinator to support international students. One of the main objectives: to reduce stigma.

Michael Szabo, emergency physician and medical director at Study Insured, noted that physical symptoms like abdominal pain, headaches and heart palpitations can actually be signs of mental illness and should be treated accordingly.

The fact that many people are struggling during the pandemic has heightened awareness. “We’re really happy that the pandemic has brought the issue to the fore,” Szabo said. “Mental health is health.”

International educators have also faced challenges related to social isolation during Covid. Conference organizers encouraged attendees to ease their worries and enjoy Whistler’s natural beauty by taking walks in the woods or running around local lakes.

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