As the school year begins to wind down and many senior students prepare for graduation, it’s important to understand the risks that are becoming more prevalent as the weather brightens and days become longer.
For this reason, Island Health releases an annual newsletter with tips to encourage students to be safe and responsible, both physically and mentally, during the warmer months. Schools, too, have resources available for students to make sure they are heading into the next phase of their lives in a positive way.
“We don’t necessarily give a lot of big lectures about it,” says Carihi counsellor, John Bowers. “We certainly tell the kids, you know, here’s what you have to do to look after yourselves. There’s tons of stuff out there about how to manage yourself around grad time, and we have that information available for kids and parents.”
So what exactly does having a “safe grad season” mean?
Well, Island Health’s guidelines for 2019, released on April 30th, outlines four main areas of concern for students, parents, and educators during this time of year; stress, consent, contraceptives, and safe substance use.
But what do students have to say about grad season, and are they taking steps to prevent the worst-case-scenarios that are broadcasted as summer nears?
“Personally, I’m not really doing anything differently. If anything, just having a little more fun because the school year is coming to an end. I’m staying happy and healthy, as I always try to do,” says senior Rowan Wales.
Bowers agrees that even counsellors and administrative staff “recognize that there are parties out there,” and typically advise students to “just make all of the normal, sensible decisions that [they’d] typically make,” and “not get carried away just because graduation is coming up.”
To keep kids safe while knowing experimentation will likely be happening, as well as decrease the risks of accidents caused by impaired driving, Island Health recommends that youth take one substance at a time, make sure their friends know where they are, as well as what they’ve taken, and to plan how they’re going to get home in advance.
“If I’m going out to a party, I make sure that I have a safe ride home,” says upcoming Carihi graduate, James Ingersoll.
And as for school-organized grad events? Well, Bowers assures both students and parents that “prom and grad itself are both dry events, meaning no alcohol and no drugs.”
So what about the increased stress and anxiety levels that many senior students experience as the school year comes to a close?
“I would say that it’s a pretty high-stress, intense time for grads. They’ll tell you that it’s not, but for most of them it’s a pretty crazy time in their lives,” Bowers adds.
Luckily, there are many individuals and organizations that students can reach out to, including Foundry, the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, school counsellors, and Campbell River’s Child and Youth Mental Health Office.
Students also agree that they’re aware of several ways to get help, should they need it, and are even beginning to notice fundraisers happening to support these organizations around Campbell River.
“There are numerous mental health resources that we know of,” Ingersoll says. “One of them is actually Kids Help Phone. They’re doing a fundraiser right now at the movie theatre where if you donate money to [Kids Help Phone], you can get $13 in savings on your movie theatre purchases. Kids Help Phone is great, if you call then they’ll talk to you about any struggles you’re having.”
Another matter that Island Health hopes to tackle is educating students on the technicalities behind consent.
“Consent is ‘yes’ and everything else is not,” their newsletter reads. “You can’t give consent if you’ve consumed alcohol or drugs. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender and sexuality. Trust yourself. If you or a friend think you have experienced sexual assault or violence, get help.”
Overall, school staff believe that students are doing a pretty good job at looking out for themselves, even as the final two months of school are getting under way.
“They certainly know what they need to do by now, and it’s up to them to make the right choices,” Bowers says.
For now, youth are reminded to trust their instincts, plan ahead, and make responsible choices heading into the summer.
Students who plan to graduate this June also are asked to be practical and know their limits, as “this is really just the beginning of your life, not the end,” Ingersoll says.
More information on safe grad seasons, as well as to access substance abuse and mental health services, can be found online at www.islandhealth.ca, or by contacting your school counsellor.