Hundreds of students in Oxford County will be demanding better mental health services as part of a walk-out and rally on Tuesday morning.
Some students from five Woodstock high schools plan to leave their classes at 9a.m. and walk to Museum Square downtown to call attention to the current suicide crisis gripping the community.
At least five young people have taken their own lives so far this year, and approximately 17 suicide attempts have also been reported to Woodstock Police in that same time period.
Sweaburg resident Gail Evraire created a Facebook group called “Youth Suicide Prevention in Woodstock Ontario,” which had over 5,100 members as of Tuesday morning.
“Ultimately their goal is, because of these five suicides they’re really hurting, and they want mental health added to their curriculum at school,” said Evraire. “We’ve commented a few times that they have courses that students can pick that are hairdressing and makeup related, and fashion, so we think certainly they should be able to add mental health in there somewhere.”
Woodstock Police will be on hand to make sure everyone stays safe.
“We’ve had many parents support this walk-out and we’re going to listen to some of the students’ stories and how they’ve been impacted, and we’re really hoping this is going to make a big difference,” said Evraire.
The three school boards, which are not planning to have a presence at the rally, sent home letters to parents and students stating the safest place to be Tuesday will be the classroom.
College Avenue Secondary School, on its Facebook page, posted a letter to parents about the planned walkout that suggested large school gatherings present a risk for vulnerable students:
“They have advised us that assemblies and other large group gatherings of students should be avoided. Not only are they not effective ways of engaging the students, they can also be triggering for those students who are most vulnerable and can contribute to increased thoughts of suicide,” it stated.
Students in five secondary schools are expected to participate: College Avenue Secondary School, Ecole secondaire Notre Dame, Huron Park Secondary School, St. Mary’s Catholic High School, and Woodstock Collegiate Institute.
“They don’t see that walking out of school is the answer, but at the same time neither is going into closed door meetings and not asking our youth ‘what’s wrong?'” said Evraire. “How can they address our youth and what they need if they don’t ask them?”
Students taking part in the walkout will also be calling for mental health in-patient services closer to home than London.
It’s unclear how long the rally is expected to last.
Canadian Mental Health Association Oxford and CMHA Middlesex plan to have representatives at the rally.
The Thames Valley District School Board has scheduled a public meeting for June 22nd to address concerns related to the recent spike in local suicides.