A group of students at North Delta’s Delview Secondary are hoping to shed some light and understanding on mental health with their newly-published book on the subject.
More Than the Sum of Our Parts: A Student Understanding of Mental Health is written by students, for students — or really anyone who wants to learn more about mental health issues — as a way to help break down stigma and misconceptions and promote greater awareness and understanding.
Students from Delview’s Innovation 10 class (an amalgamation of social studies, English and science) could have picked any topic for their group project, but they chose to talk about an issue affecting an estimated 84,000 B.C. youth because it regularly affects them and their peers.
“People seem more open to talk about their feelings today than in the past,” said student Rebecca Baetz. “I hope more people recognize that they are not alone. And I hope they can find help identifying what mental health issue they may have.”
book is laid out into six different categories: identifying issues, working towards mental wellness, society’s role, overcoming traumas, stigma, and mental health in school.
By the time many reading this article reach the age of 40, half will have experienced some form of mental health problem, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Canada’s B.C. division.
“A lot of what we have worked on as a school this year has been awareness in an effort to try to destigmatize mental health issues,” said Innovation 10 teacher Jonathan Kung.
“The main reason why students wanted to write the book was so that they could gain a deeper understanding of the topic of mental health for themselves and to share this information in an accessible way so that others could be more cognizant of it.”
This year’s Innovation 10 class is the second at Delview to publish a book tackling a broad and complex subject. Last year’s The March of Humanity discussed where humanity comes from, where it is right now and where it is potentially headed. The students who contributed to the book tried to find insight on heady questions regarding existentialism, religion, and technology’s impacts on society, as well as morality and Canadian identity.
Mark Turpin, an English teacher who oversaw much of the editing process for last year’s book, said the process of publishing something with the students taught him to trust the kids in seeking out information and educating themselves.
“A lot of what we did is flip the classroom,” Turpin, told the Reporter last year. “Instead of providing them the content and telling them, ‘We’re going to learn this, this and this,’ you flip that and say, ‘What do you want to learn?’ and be the facilitator and support that learning.”
“Nobody’s done it before really and we wanted to find something that would be authentic, that would kind of allow them to combine all the different curricula,” Kung told the Reporter last year. “It’s really quite interesting from the perspective of these teenagers who are still trying to form their opinions on a lot of these things. None of them were experts at this, a lot of them did a lot of research in order to figure out where they stood on these issues.”
For More Than the Sum of Our Parts, students put months of work into doing research, interviewing experts, advocates and people who have had their struggles with mental health, and ultimately writing the book. Inspiration came from all walks of life, Kung said, including interviewing former Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Hirsch, who shared his story with the students for the book.
Kung’s class started from square one in most ways, including breaking down their own preconceptions about what mental illness and mental health really are.
“This was a difficult topic to write about for many reasons. First of all, students had to educate themselves on the topic of mental health,” Kung said. “Addressing their own stigmas and misunderstandings was a vital step to ensuring that they could properly represent the stories of others and educate the public through the book.”
Kung said the experience was challenging at times for everyone involved, especially due to the pressure of a short deadline, but that everyone walked away with something they can take pride in.
And for the students, who increasingly live in the digital world, having a physical paperback book is something they say they’re extremely proud of.
“For youth our age, being involved in projects like these can be our contribution to this generation,” said student Chahat Munjaral. “We chose to publish a book, and that’s something that not many people our age can say, ‘I published a book in Grade 10.’”
The teachers and students behind the book know that moving the needle towards greater understanding on destigmatizing mental health is an uphill battle, and while not everyone will grasp it or get on board right away, the hope is that the it could still help someone who needs it.
“I think that by doing projects such as this that are research based and have a strong component of empathy goes a long way towards students making meaning of the complex issues surrounding mental health for themselves and for others,” Kung said.
“It is beneficial for our society to destigmatize mental illness, and I think we are getting to that point with students because I have seen more students willing to open up about it and advocating for each other.”
For Navleen Lidhar, one of the book’s student authors, the experience was very cathartic.
“I personally think that it was important to be part of this project,” Lidhar said. “You can have a better understanding of what mental health is and this type of project works.”
More Than the Sum of Our Parts: A Student Understanding of Mental Health is available now on Amazon (amazon.ca/dp/1661480411) for $4.70.
— with files from Sasha Lakic