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School counselling: Perspectives from rural BC


Maureen Codispodi. Photo provided by author.

By Maureen Codispodi, school counsellor, Gulf Islands

 

We know that things are changing in the lives of the students we teach. There are so many things that affect the mental health of students on a day-to-day basis. In Canada, approximately 1.6 million children and youth are dealing with some type of mental health disorder, and 70% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18.(1) Early intervention and prevention is necessary. Whether we are in rural or urban areas, it is safe to say that students need our support more than ever.

 

Children are experiencing many of the same issues regardless of whether they live in a rural or an urban community; however, rural and urban areas each have specific issues that affect the children living in them. Rural schools are renowned for creating a sense of community and belonging among students. There are many remarkable aspects of rural and remote living that promote health and wellness, but we should never assume that is sufficient or a reason not to implement mental health support strategies in schools. School may be one of the child’s only resources outside of their home in a rural community.


There are many remarkable aspects of rural and remote living that promote health and wellness, but we should never assume that is sufficient or a reason not to implement mental health support strategies in schools.

Issues that may affect children living in rural and remote areas of British Columbia include a lack of or limited access to the following:

 

Community-based support services. Funded support often comes with long waitlists and these services are even more challenging for those living in remote areas. Self-funded support often comes with fewer barriers, but face-to-face services are often not possible.

 

Community resources such as educational programs and extracurricular activities, sports teams, clubs, and volunteer and work opportunities (BC Ministry of Education, 2017). Depending on the size and location of communities and where students’ homes are located, accessing activities can be difficult and/or not possible.

 

Safe adults for students to seek help from if they need it. Children and youth may not always reach out to a parent or teacher for support. They need access to other adults who can help them manage challenges or when in crisis.

 

Phone service. While there are crisis hotlines such as Kids Help Phone, in some areas there are limited phone and cellular services and/or gaps in service areas. Children may not have access to their own cell phone or a landline to call or text for outside support. 

 

Information. While we live in an information-rich world, some children and youth in rural areas may have limited access to television or internet services, and libraries may have fewer resources than in urban places. This limited exposure results in a lack of information and resources that could help them.

 

Balancing the needs of students in rural and remote schools can be a challenge. Some schools may not have access to school counsellors, and when they do it is likely part-time access, which results in less face-to-face time with counsellors for students. Therefore, the teachers and administration have more of the responsibility for ensuring that their students’ mental health is supported within the school and the classroom.

 

What can teachers do?

Here are five simple things that all teachers can do in their classrooms to promote mental health and well-being:

 

Belonging: Ensure that students feel a sense of belonging. This can be done in numerous ways, including greeting each child to begin each day, morning meetings, collaborative group work, and finding the interests of each student. Any way to foster connections among students, their peers, and the teachers in the classroom contributes to relatedness at school. Teachers can promote democratic teaching principles, which can include establishing an environment where agency is promoted and students have space to share their voices.

 

Self-care: Model self-care to your students. This can be done by verbalizing when you are adding in moments of self-care throughout your day, such as taking breaks or purposeful pausing, drinking water, and adding quiet moments into the day.

 

Mindfulness: Incorporate and teach mindfulness techniques to students. Deep breathing and body scans are just a few ways students can manage stress and anxiety effectively. Do not be afraid to try something new or go back to techniques you used in the past.

 

Movement and nature: Implement pedagogical techniques that promote movement in and outside of the classroom, including nature-based physical activity. Spending time in nature supports mental health and well-being by giving us sunlight, fresh air, and views of nature. Engaging with nature positively contributes to the mental well-being of Canadian youth, potentially serving as a protective factor against symptoms of poor mental health.(2)

 

Calm creativity: Provide opportunities for students to express themselves creatively through art and music. Visual arts activities can provide calm, focused time for reflection and allow students to think and process their daily lives. Simply adding some quiet music in the background can change the atmosphere in the classroom.

 

What can counsellors do?

Here are five things that school counsellors in remote and rural areas can offer:

 

Resources and support: Ensure that the team of professionals supporting students has what they need in terms of resources and supports to use when you are not able to be present at school.

 

Information: Ensure that there is adequate literature and signage around that promotes mental health and gives students access to information. There are many amazing mental health and educational service providers that will send you materials, including the BCTF.


Self-care and boundaries: Take care of yourself and maintain good personal boundaries. While it is important to ensure that schools can access you if needed and that you are completing your professional duties, align your time with your full-time equivalency. This ensures that you stay mentally well and look after yourself so that you can be fully present to do your job when you are at school.

 

Relationships: Ensure that you build trusting relationships with the staff and students at the schools that you are supporting, especially any other student support services team members, so that you are better able to understand what support is needed and act accordingly.

 

Authenticity: When counselling in schools, we are often managing many demands while ensuring that we are offering the best possible support to students. It is important that we endeavour to be ourselves and show up authentically, while maintaining confidentiality and respect for the people in our schools. Our well-being shows up in our verbal and non-verbal communication.

 

The lives of students are undergoing significant challenges and changes that are affecting their mental health daily. Given that schools play a crucial role in students’ daily lives, especially in rural areas, providing early intervention and support is vital for addressing mental health challenges. School counsellors play a vital role in this process.

 

About the author

Maureen Codispodi is a part-time school elementary/secondary counsellor in Gulf Island School District 64. She also is the founder, director, and therapist at Help Clinic Canada, an online mental health platform that provides quality virtual therapy across Canada by experienced Canadian therapists, as well as free access to mental health resources and low-fee therapy options. You can find it at www.HelpClinic.ca.

 

1 The Conference Board of Canada. (2023, December 14). Nurturing minds for secure futures: Timely access to mental healthcare services for children and youth in Canada. www.childrenshealthcarecanada.ca/en/news/Statements/nuturing-minds-for-secure-futures_2023.pdf


2 Piccininni, C., Michaelson, V., Janssen, I., & Pickett, W. (2018). Outdoor play and nature connectedness as potential correlates of internalized mental health symptoms among Canadian adolescents. Preventive Medicine, 112, 168–175.

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