Mental health professionals urged for N.S. high schools
Student leaders meet with cabinet minister in Rehtaeh Parsons case
A dozen high school student leaders from across Nova Scotia say there should be mental health professionals in all junior and senior high schools in the wake of the Rehtaeh Parsons case.
Alyssa Walsh, a Grade 10 student at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, said the student leaders have met and shared their ideas with Marilyn More, the cabinet minister responsible for the provincial government's review of Rehtaeh's case.
According to Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh's mother, four boys sexually assaulted her daughter when she was 15 years old. Rehtaeh was then said to have been mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a photo of the incident was circulated at her school and on social media.
On April 7, Rehtaeh was taken off life support after attempting to take her own life a few days earlier. She was 17.
Walsh, whose best friend killed herself two years ago, is now a volunteer with a teen mental health organization.
"If I was standing in the hallway and someone took all my clothes off in the hallway then that's not acceptable. Why is this any different? Everyone is seeing things you did not intend for them to see," she said.
"People do it as a joke. People will send these pictures to all their friends because they think it's funny and it's not funny."
More said some of the largest high schools in the province have a psychologist on staff, while others have guidance counsellors or a school nurse who can refer students to a mental health service.
She said the provincial government is also introducing a program to assist teachers and guidance counsellors in recognizing signs of mental health problems.
Emergency funding requested
Meanwhile, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax is asking the provincial government and the Halifax Regional Municipality for nearly $200,000 in emergency funding to hire more staff members.
Irene Smith, the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said Rehtaeh's case has triggered a flood of requests for help that the centre is struggling to meet.
She said calls to meet with the centre's three therapists have been coming in at a rate of one a day.
"For the month of April, we have 20 people on our waitlist, 20 people who are new requests for new counselling services," she told CBC News.
"I suspect that our current six-month waitlist will grow longer than six months."
The centre's sexual assault nurse examiner program provides victims in the Halifax area with treatment and an examination after an immediate sexual assault to collect physical evidence needed to support criminal charges.
A similar program exists in Antigonish, but nowhere else in the province.
The Nova Scotia government contributes about $350,000 for the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre's operating budget and another $230,000 for the sexual assault nurse examiner program.
Last year, the province turned down a request from the centre for $50,000 that would have kept on a legal support worker after a private foundation withdrew its contribution. The latest request for $200,000 would restore that position, hire a community outreach worker as well as two additional counsellors.
The provincial government has yet to respond.
Jackie Stevens, the co-ordinator of community and legal education for the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said Rehtaeh's case has many victims of sexual assault recalling their own painful memories.
"This is a tragic event that has impacted on everyone and has certainly, I think, made people aware of the full scale problem in the province," she said.
"For victims and survivors who may have not felt heard in the past, who have not had their stories validated, this has certainly been a painful reminder to the reality of sexualized violence for them and so they have been reaching out, looking for services."