Published on April 2, 2017 | by Krystin Lucas Photography by Melissa Renwick0
Educate Your Health
Over the course of a 13-minute film, the audience will see a seemingly typical high school student race through a forest until a main character reaches a ravine. The calmness of the ravine doesn’t last for long when suddenly she is underwater, struggling to breathe
This is the premise for a fictional metaphoric short film entitled Warrior Within. Students from three Toronto private schools have collaborated on this project in hopes of creating an engaging mental health curriculum for high school students. It follows a 15-year-old girl and her struggle with anxiety and stress.
The film is the centrepiece of a student-run project that was created and supervised by University of Toronto Schools’ teacher and guidance counsellor, Catherine Wachter. University of Toronto Schools is an independent secondary day school affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Wachter says the film could be an effective learning tool for students since they are more hooked into education when their emotions are evoked; especially through art and music.
“I was kind of tired of the resources out there that sort of lacked creativity and emotion in terms of this area,” she says.
Wachter also wanted the film to help students make individual connections to mental health, and to create strong discussions around stress, anxiety and resilience
For students involved in the project, it was about bringing more attention to the seriousness of mental illness, “mental health is just as universal as [physical health and sex education], yet receives a fraction of the attention,” says Jonah Davids, a grade 12 student at Toronto Prep School.
Todd Leader, a Nova Scotia psychologist, was also a part of a minister’s advisory panel that lead Nova Scotia to develop a mental health curriculum for students in grades six to 12.
Leader says that it should have been part of the health curriculum long before now and has been too excluded from health studies, “people need to stop treating mental health like it’s completely separate from the health students already study. It’s just an expansion and more in depth and understanding look at the brain.”
Leader also says that the rest of the country should aspire to have the mental health program that Nova Scotia schools have had for five years already.
There, Leader explains, students can text a number for an appointment at any time of day with an on-site counsellor in school. So, instead of having a counsellor come in once every few weeks, students always have someone there to speak with if they need to.
However, the desired curriculum would also, “allow students to be able to recognize and be aware of the warning signs of someone suffering with a mental illness,” says Leader.
It would also be beneficial to students because, “70 per cent of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood and teen years…it would be easier to encourage individuals to speak out,” says Krystle Kung, online community manager at Partners for Mental Health.
The student team behind Warrior Within is currently working on creating lesson plans for high school students, says Davids. “These lesson plans are going to incorporate the film and will present mental health education in an interesting, informative and palatable way.”