Creating Resilience – one step, one program, one pink shirt at a time

Every seven seconds in Canada a child is bullied – what a sad statistic. Today in schools around the province, girls and boys are wearing pink shirts to show that bullying is not acceptable. My 5 year old son went off to school this morning in his sister’s pink shirt, not entirely getting the whole reason why. He wanted to take part, and was encouraged by said sister, but I think he was still slightly worried about the reaction he will receive once he gets there.

That may be the response of many children to the efforts of Pink Shirt Day, and other mental wellness efforts that go on throughout the year. Slightly confused, but willing to take part, and having faith that everybody deserves to feel safe and included. I’m glad that my son has his big sister leading the way, as a role mode, champion and occasional tormentor, who has allayed his anxieties on this subject and many others. I’m also glad that BC has so many dedicated and passionate professionals working on the issue of mental wellness and exchanging knowledge about best practices and new research.

It is good that Pink Shirt Day is sparking a conversation in schools. A discussion has also been started in the business community with the Vancouver Board of Trade’s recently released Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Report. The question for our schools, workplaces and communities is how do we support better mental health to benefit all? Monday saw stakeholders from around BC gather at the Wosk Centre to discuss the first annual progress report of the province’s “Healthy Minds, Healthy People: A Ten-Year Plan to Address Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia”.

Healthy Minds, Healthy People asks the following questions: How can we help people — and especially children — develop the skills that they need to lead fulfilling, successful lives? How do we help them become resilient individuals who can deal with life’s challenges in positive, constructive ways? What can we do to better support parents and families, teachers, and others who care for children? How can we support people throughout their lives so that they are equipped to be productive, active, and healthy members of our communities? And how can we best work together to achieve the Healthy Minds, Healthy People vision.

Two sessions from the day focused on children and family mental health, and how an ounce of prevention in early life, can potentially equal a pound of cure in later societal and individual costs. The CMHA’s Strongest Families BC program and BC Government’s Healthy Start programs are there to help families.

Additional meetings, conferences and events in Vancouver this week that show the support for these principles include the Vancouver Board of Trade Report on Psychologically Health Workplaces, our own Mary Collins will be presenting the report as a plenary to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Bottom Line Conference.

Two of the stand-out points that tie together the principles of Pink Day and the research work around psychologically healthy workplaces is the need to foster environments of trust and “distributive” leadership. That must be a takeaway message for children, families and teachers alike from Pink Day – we all have a part to play in saying ‘no’ to bullying. We all have a part to play in creating welcoming workplaces and communities that contribute to improved mental, social and physical wellbeing. And where prevention is not possible, we all have a part to play in addressing mental health and stigma, we can all say ‘no’ to perpetuating stereotypes.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
February 2012

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