Students at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School are leading ‘Elephant in the Room’, a national anti-stigma campaign designed to address the stigma associated with mental illness. The premise is, when an individual displays a blue elephant, it signifies that they care about the wellness of others and demonstrates a safe place to talk about mental illness, without fear of being viewed differently.
“I felt that not everyone’s voices were being heard, but now people can speak out and get help,” says Destiny, a grade 11 student. “This is what we needed in our school community.”
Students leading this initiative, in coordination with TLDSB’s Safe and Accepting Schools division, are approaching their teachers in a conversation about school culture and environment. If an individual agrees to participate in the campaign, they will display an elephant in their classroom which represents that the teacher is a safe person to go to when a student needs someone to speak to. The teacher represents a safe person, but not a counsellor. Teachers will direct students to a professional counsellor, or administration – whichever will best support their need. What’s even better about this campaign, is that these elephants were not only given to teachers; they were given to community partners who work in our school spaces, secretarial, administrative, and custodial staff as well.
“This campaign showed me that our teachers do care about our mental health and well-being,” says Josie, a grade 11 student.
Students have been made aware of what the elephants represent through committee presentations within their classrooms. When asked about the impact of the campaign on the school community, students have said that there is more awareness from both students and teachers around bullying. Both groups are talking more openly about it. Students have also responded with both curiosity and interest.
“This campaign has made the teachers more aware of bullying that is going on in our schools,” says Deni, a grade 11 student. “It’s helping the teachers to know how to help us. I think it also helps students feel more comfortable and willing to talk to the teachers. I think it’s really important to make not just the students, but teachers and visitors to feel welcome and safe.”