The Nova Scotia government says it will spend $192,000 and immediately begin to implement some of the recommendations made by a mental health expert who was called in to investigate following three youth suicides at a Cape Breton school board.
Dr. Stan Kutcher released seven recommendations on Wednesday following meetings with families, school staff and health providers.
The government said three of Kutcher's recommendations — related to boosting supports for youth facing mental-health and other life challenges — will be implemented immediately.
Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey said more staff will be hired to handle a higher number of calls on the province's mental-health crisis line.
Money for school board hirings
The Cape Breton-Victoria School Regional School Board will also be given money to hire two more guidance counsellors and a social worker. The positions had been on the board's budget chopping block, which the Nova Scotia Teachers Union said would put vulnerable kids at risk.
The province has also committed to enhancing support for CaperBase, a team of health professionals that work with youth, families, schools and other community partners to provide opportunities and supports for youth.
"Accepting the recommendation is an acknowledgement of the good work that is being done by that group," Delorey said.
He did not know what kind of additional support would be given CaperBase, saying the department had to first consult with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
The province asked Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University and an expert in adolescent mental health, in June to conduct a review in Cape Breton. Three middle-school students had taken their own lives since November, including one whose parents said she was bullied.
One of Kutcher's recommendations is for the government to hire a national expert to update and revise the provincial suicide prevention framework, the long-term plan introduced in 2006 to reduce the number of suicides and attempted suicides in Nova Scotia.
Policy for personal phones in school
Kutcher also wants the province to develop a policy for the responsible use of students' personal communication devices on school grounds.
He said developing such a policy will require input from schools, non-governmental organizations, social agencies as well as young people and their parents.
"We are grappling with learning how to be having this technology be in service to us instead of us being of service to it," he said.
New body for school-based mental health policy
Kutcher also suggested creating one structure to address all school-based mental-health policies, plans, oversight and evaluation. That body would report to the ministers of health and education.
He wants the school code of conduct policy revised to clarify the use of evidence-based interventions for conflicts, bullying and cyberbullying.
Kutcher also recommends working with mental-health experts to create social-emotional learning and mental-health programs for all grades.
He said his recommendations "run the gamut from things that are going to be helpful immediately and on the ground to things that will have long-term positive impact."
If you are in distress or considering suicide, there are places to turn for support. Nova Scotia's Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team can be reached at (902) 429-8167 or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has information about where to find help.