Carmen WestCarmen West, a master’s student in Anthropology, is researching the lived experiences and perspectives of children and young people on mental health and well-being in school.

Years ago, the Ottawa Board of Education implemented a primary prevention program called Children Learning for Living that successfully addressed children and young people’s mental health in elementary schools using a child rights-based approach. “It involved mental health workers being placed in schools across the city to teach Kindergarten to Grade 6 children about mental health, as well as consult with teachers and parents on the best ways to help students cope with stress experienced in and out of school,” explained West.

West’s research focuses on children’s experiences in schools with current mental health and well-being programs in the hopes of understanding how their perspectives can be integrated into similar programs today.

She initially became interested in this research for a combination of reasons. When entering university, she wanted to get into the field of education, mostly as an elementary school teacher but also in education policy and programming.

“Having struggled with my own mental health since elementary school, only starting to figure out ways of acknowledging and coping with it later on, I was interested in courses and research that focused on mental health and well-being as well as aimed at providing support for those facing mental health issues,” said West.

In her second year of university, she took a course in anthropology on girlhood in contemporary contexts.

“From there, my interest in education and mental health and well-being combined into a focus on listening to children’s experiences and voices when it comes to things that concern them; in this case, it is the time they spend in school and their mental health and well-being while doing so,” shared West.

In today’s context, COVID-19 has resulted in students being cut off from a lot of daily connections, enduring economic strain, as well as the stress of being or not being in school.

Said West: “I think the main implication my research has for the general public is that it enables children to be a part of the way we address things like mental health and well-being in schools as we transition through modified learning environments. Children spend the majority of their day-to-day time in school and schools which are known to provide a large portion of mental health services to students which are more necessary than ever. So to include them in the conversations on what mental health looks like and should look like in school I think makes a lot of sense.”

“There are a wide variety of programs being run at schools that support students’ and teachers’ mental health and well-being, but it appears that research itself lacks input from young people on the topic,” explained West.

Professor Virginia Caputo who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology as well as Director of the Landon Pearson Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights has been supervising West throughout this research.

“As Director of the Landon Pearson Centre, she has been crucial to connecting me to the Children’s Learning for Living program which was designed by Landon Pearson and one of Landon’s colleagues at the time,” expressed West. “Without much previous experience in research, Virginia Caputo has also helped me throughout my research to take on critical perspectives that ensure I enable space for others and stay with the trouble that comes with it and discuss big problems like mental health struggles in school.”

In the future, West aims to formulate what a program like Children Learning for Living would look like today.

“I hope that this research will add to that which informs mental health programming in schools for children in ways that consider their expertise as crucial in the success of such programs – programs I hope to contribute to and implement myself one day,” shared West.

–The above story was written by Taia Goguen-Garner.

Friday, February 19, 2021 in ,
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