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Teaching students empathy during social isolation is one of the new challenges for schools

 

Through online meetings with mental health professionals, our School Talks are challenging students to think about each other as a part of a bigger community – and here are eight ways of being supportive (and showing empathy) when someone is feeling the isolation blues

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Stress, anxiety and depression are now associated with the coronavirus COVID-19 disease and mental health professionals are already putting a red flag on summer. If being mentally stable is hard enough for adults, schools need to be prepared to deal with the risks of social isolation, when overlapping fears and worries can take a toll on students’ well-being. This is the time for empathy.

In May, Canada Royal Arts, a private, arts-based, hands-on, creative school in Vancouver, began to offer free online meetings with mental health professionals to discuss adolescents’ emotional health during the pandemic. Any student from the local community is welcome to share their stories and learn more about how to be supportive and supported.

In his Talk on “Depression: playing Covid-19 Blues”, Jim Skinner – counsellor, executive director of the Adlerian Psychology Association of BC, and professor at City University of Seattle – warned teenagers about how unusual situations like this affect people psychologically, and that many of us will experience stress, anxiety and depression at the same time.

Because we are all afraid, it is more important than ever to practice our ability to understand and care about others. “There are changes in your friends’ behaviour that you can pay attention to. If you can be the person that reaches out for a friend, you can be sure that you are helping that person deal with this traumatic collective experience”, said Skinner.

According to Skinner, there are nine signs that may show a friend is going through a rough time. Usually this person will:

⦁ Feel overwhelmed by tasks of daily living;
⦁ Be sad, irritable most of the day, experiencing this mood most days of the week for longer than two weeks;
⦁ Have lost interest in things they previously enjoyed;
⦁ Feel worthless and hopeless about the future;
⦁ Find it difficult to concentrate, with grades dropping;
⦁ Feel tired, sluggish or slow-moving;
⦁ Have difficulty expressing empathy for others;
⦁ Experience chronic boredom, very little energy to do much of anything;
⦁ Have difficulty expressing feelings.

What can we do to help friends reach a better mental place? We can start by being supportive.

All you need is to be there: lessons on empathy

Many students could already relate to someone they knew who presented these signs; sometimes it was even themselves. This prompted their important question: what can we do to help friends reach a better mental place?

“Well, we can start by being supportive”, said David Darling, head of school. “It’s a frightening time for many people and we are constantly wondering what is going to happen next. When people are unprepared to deal with uncertainties in their lives, it is easy to panic. That is why we decided to start our School Talks, to discuss ways of improving not only our students’ lives but their role in our community”.

Skinner presented eight steps how to be more supportive when someone you know is going through a difficult period. “Build your empathy, show you care and validate those fears. Don’t be afraid to talk about what really matters, don’t be afraid to show love and vulnerability”, he said.

At the end, students were encouraged to be more supportive by paying attention to the quality of their relationships with friends, understanding that is possible to:

1. Strengthen your relationship by being there, even if it is through your cell phone or computer. Presence is more about connection and caring than it is about being physically there;

2. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes and remember that empathy is the capacity to care for the care of others;

3. Move from judgement to compassionate curiosity. Ask, listen, dialogue, but don’t judge;

4. Validate their emotions more than their unhealthy behaviours;
5. Listen instead of giving unasked advice;

6. Recognize you might be getting frustrated because they are irritated a lot of the time – but show how your friendship is important and how you care;

7. Don’t feel sorry – pity will only drag both of you to a pitiful situation;

8. Encourage them to seek help from a trusted adult or a counsellor. Show them that it is okay to need help and a mental health professional is always the best way to get better and stable.

How to be a part of future School Talks

Canada Royal Arts is already scheduling the next sessions of School Talk and any parent or student from MetroVancouver is welcome to join. Interested people should contact the school via email and save a spot in upcoming sessions. Contact us at: r.zen@ciraschool.com.

CRA is a private, arts-based school in Vancouver offering grades 08 to 12. Believing that the future will not be for those who only memorize and take notes – but for those who make the rules, break the patterns and trust their feelings, it allows students to live in a respectful, artistic and creative environment where they are not afraid to be themselves, to express their thoughts and to master their talents.

This is our educational system:

⦁ Hassle-free admissions process with no need of high SSAT scores or entrance exam requirements, no prior team sports involvement, and no expectation of annual giving or major donations;

⦁ Fair prices and lower tuition rates than other private schools;

⦁ Small class sizes (mostly 10 and under), ensuring personal and individualized instruction;

⦁ Later morning starts with classes beginning at 9am;

⦁ Longer school schedule (9am-5pm) with 7 hours of instruction per day;

⦁ Emphasis on creativity, inventiveness and the arts;

⦁ No compulsory sports;

⦁ No uniform or restriction on hair length or style – we encourage creativity, individuality and freedom of personal expression;

⦁ An emphasis on an enriched Arts program rather than STEM in addition to the regular BC curriculum;

⦁ Ability to take 5 courses in each semester for a total of 10 in the academic year (other schools offer 8);

⦁ Possibility to complete BC graduation requirements in two years allowing a full year to prepare an arts portfolio for college/university admission.

Academically, our goal is to have every single student accepted by their dream university, especially in creative fields such as Arts, Design, Science and Engineering. With strong portfolios, our students have been accepted to some of the best arts universities in North America: Parsons School of Design, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Ontario College of Art and Design, University of Toronto, California College of the Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and more.

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WHAT   School Talks – Mental Health Online Meetings

WHERE   Online, Canada Royal Arts (contact us via email)

FOR WHOM   Students (grades 08 to 12) and parents in MetroVan

WHEN   May to July 2020

HOW MUCH   FREE

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