How mental health plays a role in schools

Student shares his experiences after a stabbing at Dunbarton High School

As Dunbarton High School student Brandon Parker was on his way to his locker, he recalls something he says he’ll never forget.

In his sightline was a 16-year-old saw a girl carrying two large kitchen knives, running down the hallway in his direction.

“She was coming straight at me,” Parker said. “At first I froze, but she was getting closer so I ran as fast as I could.”

On the morning of Tue, Feb 23, at approximately 8:30 a.m., Durham Regional Police were called to Dunbarton High School on Sheppard Avenue just off of Whites Road after receiving reports about a 14-year-old girl wielding two knives. The girl was allegedly cutting and stabbing those around her.

Six students, along with three staff members, sustained minor injuries. Two staff members tackled the girl to the ground, ending the chaos.

The motive for the attacks is still unclear to Durham Regional Police and investigations are ongoing. “It seems to be random at this point,” Sgt. Bill Calder told the media.

Describing the girl, Parker says she seemed like a very timid person with very few friends who always kept to herself. “I didn’t really know her that much but from what I heard, she was a bit of a loner and she was bullied quite often,” Parker said.

The teenage girl appeared in an Oshawa court just a day after the stabbing for a bail hearing. She appeared in youth court again on March 1 for another hearing where she faced 15 charges, including six counts of assult causing bodily harm, seven counts of assult with a weapon, and possesion of dangerous weapons.

With the situation occurring in Pickering, this may raise concerns about the safety of Toronto schools, as well as the role mental health may play in violent cases involving young people.

Hugh Ferguson, superintendent of operations at Toronto Police, says that mental health is no bigger than any other factor in the school environment.

“It certainly plays factor in society,” Ferguson said. “But it’s certainly just one of many factors that can influence how people behave.”

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of youth. Research states that:

A look at youth and mental health

– Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other group age.

– An estimated 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.

– Approximately 3.2-million youth between the ages of 12 to 19 are at risk for developing depression.

– Approximately five per cent of males and 12 per cent of females will experienced some type of major depressive episode.

– Only one out of five youth will receive the health services they require.

In many cases, bullying is one of the major reasons as to why youth suffer from mental illnesses. It causes the victim more emotional harm than physical, which for some may trigger violent behaviors towards the bully in retaliation.

Recent reports by the Toronto District School Board’s Caring and Safe Schools Program, show that the rate of suspensions and expulsions continue to decline in secondary schools. Bullying, accounting for 3.7 per cent of suspensions compared to 5.6 per cent in the 2011-2012 school year. This drop might be due to the initiatives of the bullying awareness week and Pink T-shirt day held annually by schools across the nation.

 

Certain occurrences such as fighting, physical assault, threats of bodily harm on another resulting in suspensions or expulsion call for police involvement.

In 2015, Toronto police were involved in 20.1 per cent of suspensions and expulsions, which is a 1.8 per cent increase from the previous year.

Ferguson believes there may not necessarily be an increase to violence on school grounds but a rise in awareness due to social media.

“I think you’ll find that there has been an awareness with the advent of social media which has brought it (high school violence) more to the forefront than it may have been in the past,” Ferguson said.

“We’ve got programs in place that are encouraging people to come forward, so if there was an increase, it would be hard to attribute the increase to a greater amount of violence or a greater amount of reporting.”

A resource officer works closely with schools to nip violent behaviors before they happen. Ferguson says there are school resource officers in several Toronto high schools that work with the school administration in dealing with issues in the school.

“The hope is that students recognize that the resource officer is part of their school, not just cops coming in to solve the problems,” Ferguson said.

“Hopefully, they (students) will start to report things that they’ve heard before they lead to violence.”

Toronto police also have school officers going around elementary schools lecturing on safety tips including bullying and cyber bullying in general.

“The thought is to get children at a very early age where they’re first exposed to these things before it becomes a greater issue,” Ferguson said.