Teaching kids how to smile and stay calm for life. It's one of the ambitious goals a new program between Regina Public Schools and the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region hopes to accomplish.

FRIENDS, an acronym for the skills and lessons emphasized in the program, tackles the issue of anxiety and depression in elementary school students.

  • Feelings
  • Remember to relax
  • I can try! I can do my best!
  • Explore coping plans and solutions
  • Now reward yourself
  • Don't forget to practice
  • Smile and stay calm for life

It was introduced to select classrooms in fall 2013. Rob Stephenson, the program coordinator, said more than 120 students in Grades 4 and 6 were taught lessons in a health class focusing on ways to handle everyday stress.

"In the first week you would see the kids learning how to describe their feeling and what those feelings actually are," Stephenson said. "The following week you would probably see kids learning different techniques to relax themselves."

Supporting Mental Illness Week

Red and green thoughts

One cause of anxiety and depression in students, Stephenson points out, is a tendency to think negatively. FRIENDS tries to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones.

"We call negative thoughts in the FRIENDS program 'red' thoughts," Stephenson said. "Then we teach them to counter those thoughts with more positive ones, which we call green thoughts. For some of the classes, they actually use red and green lightsabers to represent those thoughts."

The results are showing that FRIENDS is having a green impact on the students. Seventy-six students were measured how much anxiety and depression they were feeling before and after the program. Seventeen per cent reported clinical levels of anxiety, depression or both. However, after completing the program, that number fell to just under 12 per cent.  

Stephenson said both organizations are encouraged by these results.

"These were marvelous results," he said. "Exactly the kind of things we were hoping for. So kids that are really anxious or really depressed are benefiting from the program as we hoped."

The next step is to expand the FRIENDS program into more classrooms in Regina. Stephenson said a $50,000 grant from the RBC Foundation is allowing Regina Public Schools to hire 50 facilitators that will give teachers what they need in order to bring FRIENDS into their classrooms. 

The goal for this school year is to reach 1,000 students in the Regina Public and Catholic school divisions. 

To hear more about the FRIENDS program, tune into The Morning Edition with Sheila Coles on CBC Radio One this morning. Sheila is broadcasting live from the Canadian Mental Health Association building at 1810 Albert Street. The show is looking at the positive work being done in the building for people who deal with mental illness. 102.5 FM and 540 AM