Penticton mother pens emotional letter about youth mental health

The mother of a Penticton middle school student whose classmate committed suicide is worried school officials are not doing enough.

The superintendent of Okanagan-Skaha School District 67 said there is a lack of adequate resources in the community to deal with the increasing number of kids with mental health related problems.

The superintendent of Okanagan-Skaha School District 67 said there is a lack of adequate resources in the community to deal with the increasing number of kids with mental health related problems.

The mother of a Penticton middle school student whose classmate committed suicide is worried school officials are not doing enough when it comes to illegal drug use by kids.

The woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, sent a letter addressed to KVR counsellor and staff expressing her concerns signing it, “A very worried parent of a 13 year old.”

Read more: Teacher says students just “hanging on”

In the letter she said she has learned many students at that young age are already using drugs like marijuana and “magic” mushrooms and she has even witnessed actions by students she believed were under the influence.

“I hope that message has come across now that there was a tragedy I feel was strongly perpetuated by classmates and drug use,” she wrote. “I beg you as staff, to please find out where this supply chain is coming from and inform parents how to keep our kids away from these life-destroying (drug) dealers.”

She agreed with comments from others close to the situation (Western News Oct. 26) that the resources fall far short of the increasing need but that might change if people were made aware of what she feels is really happening.

Read more: Spike in youth mental health issues in Penticton a “crisis”

“As part of the public I think it’s awful they’re actually hiding this, that this is happening out there and I know there’s confidentiality, but still it’s worrisome,” she said.

She does not believe the current teaching methods regarding drugs is working and feels there is a “disconnect” between those methods and what’s actually happing in kids lives.

However, School District 67 superintendent Wendy Hyer said illegal drug use by students is taken very seriously.

“Anytime we have students who are involved in substances, the administration is fairly conscience with following up with families,” said Hyer, adding the school encourages and will arrange counselling, especially for chronic users.

In the case of students dealing drugs the RCMP is also involved.

“I look at the letter and it’s a parent who is advocating for her child and I understand that but it comes from a place of not really knowing,” said Hyer. “In fairness to the staff there, they were devastated about the death of the student (at KVR) and that student had a lot of support.

“She seemed to be coming out of her shell and was having a good year and this was a total surprise to them (staff).”

The superintendent also agreed with the lack of adequate resources in the community to deal with the increasing number of kids with mental health related problems.

“It puts more pressure on our counsellors because they’re not trained clinicians when it comes to mental health issues,” said Hyer.  “They’re teachers who generally help with career counselling, time tabling, boyfriend and girlfriend issues they do the best they can because they care about kids.”

Read more: Working together for Penticton students mental health

In the event of a sudden death like a suicide the district crisis team swings into action to help staff and students deal with the situation providing whatever support is needed.

She added specifics of an incident can only be given if authorized by the parents and even then, only the facts are shared.

“Generally (in a letter) we tell parents what to look for and make sure their child is grieving in a healthy way not an unhealthy way and where to access support,” said Hyer.” You don’t want to glorify it that’s why you give the facts and try and get kids back to normal and a normal routine as quickly as possible.”

As well, during the past two years there has been an increasing focus on helping children, starting in kindergarten, with methods of dealing with stress and anxiety thanks in part through donations from the Rotary Club and McConnell Foundation.

The unnamed parent of the KVR student was also among the more than 200 parents and caregivers who attended an information session at the Shatford Centre earlier this week by the South Okanagan Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative.

A panel of physicians, school counsellors, parents and clinicians was brought together to address a number of questions relating to children and stress and is funded by Doctors of BC and the health ministry.

According to Tracy St. Claire who chaired the meeting on behalf of the collaborative the suicide at KVR pre-empted its original scheduling as agreed to with the school district.

“And when this came along there seemed to be a greater need for information to make sure we’re responding to that in a timely way,” said St. Claire. “My biggest fear with this is we know the need is high and we (in the community) do have limited resources and in the meantime we have to take measures not to inflame the issue unduly because we know there is a copy cat effect.

“We are seeing a lot of coming together to support the kids but when kids are in crisis, and to have predictable supports in place for them, it is a challenge because of those limited resources.”