Respectful Citizenship Award: Digby student creates mental health support group at DRHS

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on February 25, 2016

Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant and his wife Joan presented Rachel Creighton, a student at DRHS, with the Respectful Citizenship Award at a ceremony in Halifax on Feb. 24.

©Grant Creighton

DIGBY – Rachel Creighton wants to make sure everyone in her community feels involved, supported and welcome.

The Grade 12 student at Digby Regional High School and prime minister of the student parliament has received the Respectful Citizenship Award from Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor for creating a mental health support group at her school.

“A girl I used to dance with in Halifax, she committed suicide because of depression,” says Creighton. “She was a young girl, same as me, 17, and I know people here at DRHS who are dealing with mental health but nobody wants to talk about it.”

Creighton decided he school needed a safe space for people to talk about mental health.

She dealt with anxiety herself after the death of a family member.

“Even a conversation with friends or family can help,” she says. “A support system, having people you can talk to is important.”

Starting last September she arranged meetings every other Friday open to anyone in Grades 7 to 12.

Each week has a special topic like media, bullying or relationships.

With help from Amy Theriault, the SchoolsPlus coordinator at DRHS, Creighton arranges presenters to come in as well. They’ve had a psychologist and an RCMP officer and are planning to have people teach them relaxing techniques through yoga or meditation.

[RELATED: DRHS student speaks at TEDx conference in Kelowna, Sept. 2014]

Creighton says a lot of the mental health discussions are important – because the material isn’t covered in school but they are challenges that everyone faces growing up.

But the best part is the group talking amongst themselves.

“We have a rule that everyone will be respectful,” says Creighton. “We’re very open with each other and everyone knows our group is a safe place to share.”

About eight students have been coming to every meeting.

Has it made a difference?

“I don’t know,” says Creighton. “It’s so hard to know. It could be changing things in different ways you can’t even see.”

 Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant presented the award to Creighton and nine other students, one from each school board in Nova Scotia, and seven groups, at the Spatz Theatre in Halifax Feb. 24. That is also National Anti-Bullying Day in Canada also known as Pink Shirt Day.

Students in Digby and across the province wear pink t-shirts that day to show their solidarity against bullying.

The Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor’s Respectful Citizenship Award was created in 2013 to recognize students in Grades Primary to 12, who demonstrate leadership and commitment to creating safe and inclusive spaces, where bullying is not accepted and respectful, responsible relationships are promoted.

"This award recognizes young people who take the initiative to make positive changes and address the difficult issues facing their schools and communities," said Lt.-Gov. Grant.  "It is my hope that this award will encourage other young people, parents and educators, to undertake activities that will create safe and inclusive spaces and inspire respectful citizenship now and in the future."

The individual recipients for 2016 are:

-- Mollie Symons, Horton High School, Wolfville

-- Samuel Amoako, Sydney Academy, Sydney

-- Darla Langille-Schumann, West Highlands School, Amherst

-- Emily Pettipas, École acadienne de Pomquet, Pomquet, Antigonish Co.

-- Nikolas Sutherland, Millwood High School, Middle Sackville

-- Ethan Ringer, South Queens Middle School, Liverpool

-- Janine Lock, Strait Area Education Recreation Centre, Port Hawkesbury

-- Rachel Creighton, Digby Regional High School, Digby

-- Hogan Ingram, Armbrae Academy, Halifax

-- Jacob Paul-Gould, Unama'ki Training and Education Centre, Eskasoni, Cape Breton Regional Municipality

The team recipients for 2016 are:

-- Project Unify, Annapolis Valley Regional School Board

-- The Sherwood Park Education Centre student body, Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board

-- The We Act Committee, Hants North Rural High School, Chignecto-Central Regional School Board

-- The Sackville Heights Junior High School Film Club, Halifax Regional School Board

-- Garden in the Woods Project, South Shore Regional School Board

-- Eskasoni Mi'Kmaq Care / Live Different, Mi'Kmaw Kina'matnewey

-- Project ARC (Action, Responsibility, Choice!), Homeschool Team, Halifax Regional Municipality