Nova Scotia

Teachers need mental health training, says mother at anti-bullying meeting

Dr. Stan Kutcher is in Cape Breton this week to investigate the cause of three teen suicides in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality since November, and make recommendations to the provincial government.

'I have blamed the school for failing. But you can't fail when you don't know'

Darryl MacLean says his 12-year-old daughter has been bullied at school and believes schools should offer students more protection from bullying. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

A mother of three in Cape Breton choked back tears last night as she told a public meeting that teachers need training on how to recognize bullying and mental health issues.

The woman, who gave only her first name, Tiffany, said her 13-year-old daughter has been "tortured" at school for the past year.

"They [the school] didn't recognize the symptoms," she said, "I have blamed the school for failing. But you can't fail when you don't know."

The meeting at the Grand Lake Road Fire Hall was hosted by Dr. Stan Kutcher, a professor at Dalhousie University and an expert in youth mental health and suicide.

Kutcher is on the island this week to investigate the cause of three teen suicides in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality since November, and make recommendations to the provincial government.

Mental health first aid training

Tiffany told the meeting the school is now trying to help her daughter. But she said teachers should have mental health first aid training, "to recognize when the mental health of one of their students is beginning to spiral down".

People attending the meeting brought up their concerns with bullying to Dr. Stan Kutcher an expert in youth mental health and suicide. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Another parent, Darryl MacLean, said his 12-year-old daughter has also been bullied at school. A union official in the building trades, he said workplaces offer protection for employees against harassment. 

"I've taken part as a labour relations official in drafting company policies that are zero tolerance," said Maclean. "We don't have those protections in place for our children. And the school? That is their workplace."

Systemic problems 

A community activist told the 100 or so people at the meeting, bullying won't go away until Cape Breton's economy improves.

"Until we really look at the systemic problems that we have in Cape Breton about providing the fundamental basics for our youth, the  bullying will continue, " said Madonna Doucette of the Ally Centre. 

"These kids are going to school with empty stomachs, they're already beaten down."

Madonna Doucette of the Ally Centre says the Cape Breton economy needs to improve and children need their basic needs met before bullying will go away. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Kutcher acknowledged there are long-term challenges.

But he said his report will contain several recommendations to government that can be done "quickly" to help alleviate concerns over bullying and mental health in Cape Breton.

"The idea here is not to give a report that's going to take me three months to write, and sit on a shelf and never be looked at," he said. 

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca

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