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Burnaby school district launches campaign to help students manage COVID-era stress

'They didn’t have access to those things that brought them connection and joy, and therefore typically supported their mental wellness.'
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Burnaby South Secondary Grade 12 students Sean Chung, left, and Sam Kim are co-presidents of their school's mental health club.

Students still dealing with the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are getting some help learning to cope with stress thanks to a new Burnaby school district awareness campaign.

The pandemic had a big impact on students’ mental health, according to the district’s Safe and Caring Schools lead Nick Christofides.

“The healthy outlets that kids relied on just weren’t there for a huge part of the pandemic – things like athletics, fine arts and clubs that met in person, both at schools and in the community,” Christofides told the NOW. “We know, anecdotally, that these kinds of things made it harder for kids to process their emotions and manage their stress because they didn’t have access to those things that brought them connection and joy, and therefore typically supported their mental wellness.”

The district decided to focus on stress management this year – starting with helping students look at it through a different lens.

“When you ask students and adults about stress, many assume that it’s a bad thing. The truth is much more nuanced. Not all stress is bad. In fact, stress can be channeled to help you succeed,” Christofides said.

Throughout the 2022-23 school year, the district will host enhanced training and workshops for mental health leads at each school and professional development opportunities for teachers, counsellors and learning support staff.

For students, the district has launched an awareness campaign featuring posters with tips on “making stress your friend.”

Some initiatives will be student led, including a mental health conference in the spring hosted by the district student advisory council, as well as smaller initiatives throughout the year put on by mental health clubs at the city’s high schools.

At Burnaby South Secondary, the mental health club is in the process of putting together “self-care packages,” featuring items to help students unwind, including bath bombs, candles, tea and more.

“My generation, they don’t really like to sit and watch people talk. They like events, like doing something,” said co-president Sam Kim, a Grade 12 student who joined the club in Grade 8.

Since the pandemic, Kim said more of his friends at school are interested in ways to manage stress, especially now that they’re in the senior grades.

The mental health club has grown as a result.

“I think South needs a mental health club because I know that many students aren’t really aware of mental health, and they really don’t know much about it,” said Grade 12 student Sean Chung, the other co-president of the club. “I feel like mental health club is the best way to help educate others about it and just spread it.”

South’s mental health club was founded in 2018 by Chung’s sister, Susan.

“The club is an organic thing. It’s grown because of students impacting other students not because of adults,” said Amos Lee, the club’s teacher sponsor. “We just support them … They’re the ones that are helping each other out. And that’s different, when they can get peer-to-peer help.”

COVID may have been bad for students’ mental health, according to Lee, but one silver lining is that more people seem to be talking about it.

“We still have things to do, but I think more people are OK with even starting the conversation, and that’s the important part,” he said.

For more information about anti-stress initiatives at Burnaby schools, visit the district's website.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor