New data suggests COVID-19 has accelerated the decline in mental health among young Canadians. (Black Press Media File)

New data suggests COVID-19 has accelerated the decline in mental health among young Canadians. (Black Press Media File)

Vernon teacher eager to EASE high school anxiety

New resource aimed at high-levels of anxiety among high school students

With the pandemic amping up anxiety levels in students, teachers are getting more resources to help kids cope.

High-school teachers have new classroom resources to help students manage anxiety, thanks to the launch of Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators (EASE) 8-12.

Vernon School District behaviour specialist Robyn Lindahl is eager to put more students at ease.

“These evidence-based classroom resources will really help build my knowledge about anxiety and provide easy classroom resources that couldn’t come at a better time,” Lindahl said. “I plan to incorporate these into our Connections Program as an anchor to help students ground themselves whenever they need to.”

EASE materials focus on breathing, mindfulness and coping skills, along with strategies to tackle common problems like procrastination, test anxiety, facing fears, managing unhelpful thoughts, calming public-speaking nerves, managing mood and social media’s impact on mental health and well-being.

“The pandemic has had a profound impact on children’s and youths’ mental health,” said Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development. “Expanding EASE to grades 8-12 puts practical and much-needed tools for managing anxiety directly into classrooms, so even more young people can learn how to boost their coping skills in these challenging times.”

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EASE is rooted in the evidence-based principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. It first launched in 2019 to provide kindergarten to Grade 7 educators with adaptable online materials to teach students coping skills to help them manage mild to moderate anxiety. Since then, EASE at Home launched, making it easy for parents and caregivers to share the lessons with their children. The kindergarten to Grade 7 materials have also been translated into French.

“As a parent to two young people, I feel grateful and relieved that EASE is now available for grade 8-12 teachers,” said Kali Love, whose children attend school in the Southeast Kootenay district. “On top of regular school stress, social pressures and schoolwork, teenagers are tasked with balancing it all. Using EASE, teachers can help to educate my kids on managing their anxiety in a healthy way that will not only help them immediately, but will also reduce mental-health stigma in schools.”

The school-based resources are free and available to educators, school counsellors and support staff within school districts, independent schools and First Nations schools, following completion of a self-paced online course.

“Students have the best education experiences when they feel safe and supported,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education. “Mental wellness is a priority as students continue to live with anxiety during the pandemic, and EASE is another resource for educators to use so that we have a variety of strategies to meet the unique needs of students.”

As a school-based support, EASE is part of government’s ongoing work to build a seamless and co-ordinated mental health and addictions system of care in B.C. The two-year progress report on A Pathway to Hope, B.C.’s 10-year mental-health plan, was released in September 2021. As part of the plan, integrated child and youth teams will soon be in the Comox Valley and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, with 20 communities expected to be on board by the end of 2023-24.

“We know that many young people are facing increased mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Providing high-school teachers with the tools they need to support their students’ mental well-being will help prevent small problems from becoming bigger down the road.”

EASE 8-12 was developed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, in collaboration with grade 8-12 teachers, school counsellors, social and emotional learning educators, youth from school districts and independent schools, an Indigenous literacy teacher and an Elder and other subject-matter experts.

“This pandemic has really upped the incidents of anxiety and other mental-health issues for students and parents, adding to the high levels that were already present in our schools,” Peace River North school district counsellor Bev Baker said. “EASE materials, rooted in cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, give students the skills and knowledge to combat their anxious feelings right away, and that can make a big difference in helping them believe that they can have a direct impact on managing these challenges.”

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