'Be kind to yourself': Counsellor tells kids it's okay to struggle with change

Sharla Greenland helps students adjust to COVID-19 reality — while going through a "learning curve" of her own.

Sharla Greenland helps students adjust to COVID-19 reality — while going through a ‘learning curve’ of her own

Sharla Greenland is a school counsellor at East Three Secondary School in Inuvik. She has taken her counselling services online during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Sharla Greenland)

A high school counsellor in Inuvik, N.W.T., is telling people to "be kind to yourself during these times" as students and parents alike adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Our days are going to be different," said Sharla Greenland on Thursday. "This is something totally new."

Greenland is one of more than 30 mental health counsellors who are still serving students in the Northwest Territories — even without bumping into students in the hallways or asking them to drop by the office. 

Now, Greenland connects with students by phone and promotes well-being on her Facebook page — reaching not only her own community of Inuvik, but also the boarding students from Sachs Harbour and Tsiigehtchic who are back home during the pandemic. She is also starting to try meetings though Zoom, a videoconferencing app for smartphones and computers.

Greenland says adjusting to that change has been a huge learning curve. 

"It's been a bit slow going," said Greenland, adding that she has far fewer students reaching out than she did before the pandemic. These days, she has been spending much more time promoting herself and making sure people know she's there to help. 

That help may become increasingly important during these chaotic times. According to the UK mental health charity Young Minds, 83 per cent of young people surveyed who had a history of mental illness said that the pandemic had been bad for their mental health.

Counsellors a 'lifeline'

Education Minister R.J. Simpson says when the chief public health officer decided to close schools in the Northwest Territories, mental health care was one of the first things he thought about.

"Counsellors can be a lifeline for some students," he told CBC. "Right from the beginning, this is one of the priorities that we set."

In a press release this week, Simpson's department said that "work is underway" to make sure students can get counselling in a safe, private way.

I do worry for students that might be in a really difficult situation.- Sharla Greenland, Invuik school counsellor

Vivian Harris, principal of Łutsel K'e Dene School, says her school has set up a conference room with a phone so students can call a counsellor if they don't have a phone at home. When it comes to counselling, Harris's students are already used to making these calls, she says. A counsellor only visits the school in this community of 300 people for a few weeks each year, and is otherwise only available remotely.  

In Inuvik, Greenland said that a common complaint she hears from students is trouble sleeping. A lot of the calls she gets are from young people who are looking for a trusted adult and a sense of normalcy in the middle of constant change.

"I do worry for students that might be in a really difficult situation," she said. However, Greenland says the young people in her community are resilient, and some are even enjoying the time out of the classroom. Many put their lessons from counselling into practice. 

"They're using the different strategies they've learned … techniques to help themselves," she said. "I'm very proud of how they are doing."

If you're a youth in distress you can Kids Help Phone at 1-800-688-6868 or text "CONNECT" to 686868.