Tending Hearts and Minds

A Thoughtful Discussion About Mental Health Education and Intervention in Our Schools for Educators, Counselors, and Parents

A symposium at Vancouver Central Public Library, British Columbia, Canada, February 14, 2020

hearts and minds


Audio for all keynote presentations can be accessed here.


02:15 to 9:32

Janet Currie provides a short introduction to the symposium, all speakers, and the topics they will discuss.

Janet Currie, M.S.W. and Ph.D. candidate, co-edits a blog on the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs for Pharmawatch Canada and is co-founder of the Psychiatric Awareness Medication Group, which provides information on the potential harms and effectiveness of psychiatric drugs along with advice on drug tapering. For more than four years, she was a member of Health Canada’s most senior expert advisory committee on the vigilance of prescription drugs and health products.

What Is the Evidence for Use of Prescription Drugs for Children and Adolescents?

9:50 – 24:19

Dr. James M. Wright reviews some of the ideas, influencing factors, and historical developments driving the “evidence-based medicine” movement and reveals what the evidence generally shows about the efficacy and risks of psychotropic drug use in children.

Slides from the presentation can be accessed here.

James M. Wright, M.D., Ph.D., FRCP(C), is Professor of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He was also the long-time Director of the Therapeutics Initiative, an independent advisory body of professionals with expertise in drug therapy and healthcare whose public aim is to improve and maintain the health and well-being of British Columbians.

Canaries in the Mine: Adolescents in Crisis

24:42 – 39:54

Dr. Elia Abi-Jaoude examines the dramatic increase in the numbers of youth experiencing and expressing emotional distress with self-harm and suicidality and discusses how “mental health awareness” campaigns in schools may have contributed to the problem by pathologizing adolescents. He discusses alternative approaches such as working closely with adolescents and families experiencing challenges so that they can experience growth and resilience and addressing the social, cultural, political, and economic factors that may be contributing to distress.

Slides from the presentation can be accessed here.

Elia Abi-Jaoude, M.D., FRCP(C), is a practicing psychiatrist, clinical educator, and researcher at The Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto.

“Storytelling” in Child and Youth Mental Health Education

40:20 – 54:46

Using examples from British Columbia, Rob Wipond demonstrates how widely distributed child and youth mental-health education programs from prominent mental health organizations, governments, and even physician groups frequently use medically false and misleading statements. He explains how this misinformation is used to foreclose debate, undermine self-confidence, and coerce children into taking psychotropic medications.

Slides from the presentation can be accessed here.

Rob Wipond is an investigative journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for more than twenty years. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism.

A School Must Have Heart: The Need for an Educational Revolution

55:40 – 1:12:35

Michael Gilbert discusses how the current mental health model is negatively impacting children’s social-emotional well-being. He then introduces a variety of alternative ways of approaching difficulties and healing.

Slides from the presentation can be accessed here.

Michael Gilbert, Psy.D, is a school psychologist and founder of a community nonprofit organization, It’s About Childhood & Family, Inc.

The Power of Understanding: Change, Hope and Healing Through Trauma Awareness

1:13:00 – 1:27:25

Noel Hunter discusses how, while it is important for educators, peers, parents, and the public to be adept in understanding when a child is suffering or in need, research has shown that framing this problem within a medicalized illness framework can result in worse long-term outcomes, increased isolation and suicidality, increased academic and employment problems, and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Conversely, helping to educate others on the devastating impact of trauma, poverty, and other types of adversity can increase empathy, support, necessary environmental change, hope, and healing.

Slides from the presentation can be accessed here.

Noel Hunter is a clinical psychologist specializing in a psychosocial approach to emotional distress. Her work focuses on the link between trauma and altered states, human rights, and alternative approaches to healing. She is the author of Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services.

What We Know and Don’t Know About Psychiatric Medication Safety

1:27:35 – 1:33:28

Janet Currie introduces the short- and long-term adverse effects of psychiatric medication, withdrawal, safer tapering, and what to ask doctors.

Discussion Sessions

Discussion One: James Wright and Janet Currie

Dr. James Wright reviews the scientific evidence and asks whether we truly understand what we’re doing and what the risks are when we give a child a diagnosis of ADHD and a prescription for a CNS stimulant. He points out that “benefits” of stimulants are reported only by teachers and parents but not by “blinded observers” or kids themselves, and that adverse effects are often downplayed. Janet Currie discusses how little doctors are typically taught about the drugs they prescribe and about the risks of “prescription cascades,” in which one drug’s adverse effects leads to new psychiatric diagnoses and drugs. She elaborates on common adverse effects, questions to ask doctors, and safe tapering.


Slides (James Wright)

Slides (Janet Currie)

Discussion Two: Elia Abi-Jaoude and Rob Wipond

Dr. Abi-Jaoude and Rob Wipond discuss informed consent and coercion of children, the central importance of the ideas and terms we use when we talk to children about “mental health,” and the negative impacts of the judgments, expectations, and rigid standards that our society places onto children and youth. An audience member’s resistance to using the phrase “manage” becomes a focal point for exploring how we understand and respond to challenges and engage creative approaches.


Discussion Three: Noel Hunter and Michael Gilbert

Noel Hunter and Michael Gilbert explore how the situation is arguably becoming worse, not better, for kids in the mental health system. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study effectively demonstrated that kids are suffering because of what is going on in their lives, not because of “unhealthy brains,” and effective responses that are working in schools involve including more recess and play, expanding arts curricula, using calming breathing techniques, establishing food programs, and engaging families. Participants discuss the importance of improving interpersonal relationships.


Slides (Noel Hunter)

Discussion Four: Closing Panel

Presenters and participants share their main observations, lessons learned, and questions from the day in a candid discussion. Issues explored include a profound, shared concern that children, families, and professionals alike are caught in an overly medicalized system that is extremely powerful and influential. Many helpful social programs and services for children and families have been cut. Can medical doctors become more proactive in promoting more flexible, collaborative processes? The idea of “mental disorder” as a social construct leads to animated exchanges, and a general recognition of the central importance of engaging young people “where they are.”

Audio can be found here.