As reported in a media release from The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) this past week, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) sent layoff notices to 25 para-professionals, a 53 per cent loss, cutting all child and youth worker and behaviourist positions. These employees provide services that are critical to student suicide prevention and mental health, while also aiding in connecting families with outside agencies that can provide support for students.

It would be one thing if these were services that weren’t needed anymore because our students are currently at the peak of their mental health, but statistics show that just isn’t the truth. A study from Youth Mental Health Canada (YMHC) showed that 10 – 20 per cent of Canadian youths are affected by a mental illness or disorder and that only one in five children who need mental health services receive them.

With the removal of these para-professional positions, the risk is that these numbers will get worse. 

The same YMHC study showed that five per cent of male youths and 12 per cent of female youths, from the ages of 12 to 19, have experienced major depressive episodes and they need help to be guided through them. While the brain can do some amazing things, like remembering fond memories of childhood or creating elaborate imaginations, it can also be a dark place for a lot of people.

There are still a lot of misconceptions in our society about mental illness. People in depressive episodes don’t just suddenly wake up one morning feeling better; many need mental health services. With the constant pressure of schoolwork, future goals, the need to be accepted by fellow peers, body image insecurities and everything else from work and home can put a strain on some students and they need guidance.

Without a helping hand through those grey days, students’ eating and sleeping habits can be affected which can spill into their work ethic, their social lives and their home life. 

For parents with school-age children, pay close attention. Don’t take every “I’m fine,” at face value, ask more questions and read the signs. Make sure your child is getting the help that they need because with these education cuts, there are fewer safety nets in our schools to catch children who are struggling. 

Kory Glover