'Just sick to my stomach': Sask. mom says cheer team asked daughter to hide self-harm scars
It’s been a week since a North Battleford mother found out that her 13-year-old daughter was no longer being treated like everyone else at her school.
“I was just sick to my stomach,” the mother said, who asked that she and her daughter not be identified.
“Honestly, after that conversation, I couldn't believe what they were telling me.”
She says the conversation was between her and the vice principal at her daughter’s school, John Paul II Collegiate in North Battleford, where her daughter took part in the cheer team.
Her daughter has scars on her arms and legs from self-harm and is being told she can’t participate in certain events with the rest of her cheer teammates.
“If she wanted to compete in the competition coming up in February, she was to have her arms and legs covered and the sleeping arrangements were changing,” she said.
“She would have to stay in the hotel room with me, and she also would not be allowed to join her teammates when they went swimming.”
The mother says her daughter also will not be allowed to participate in gym class at her school, where the uniform is shorts and a t-shirt which would not cover her scars.
“She's been working with the school counsellor,” she said.
“This has been going on the entire time she has been in cheer, it's not just like an isolated incident. It didn't just one-time happen. She's been in cheer since October, and we've all been made aware of [the scars] but there was just no policy surrounding it.”
In an email, the Saskatchewan Cheer Association says there are no protocols regarding self-harm scars or injuries, and any limitations imposed on the athlete would have come from another source.
The email went on to say the SCA does not support any decision to discriminate, limit or exclude any athlete with actual or perceived physical impairments such as scars from self-harm.
In a statement, Light of Christ Catholic School Division says it takes the mental health of all students very seriously, but is unable to discuss any details around any student’s personal circumstances due to privacy requirements.
Executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Saskatoon branch Faith Bodnar says she was shocked when she heard of the situation.
“To have these kinds of restrictions placed on her because of a mental health issue is really, I'm going to use the word, quite archaic,” she said.
Bodnar says the approach of excluding students based on their mental health needs is not best practice.
“This just reinforces that stigma about mental health and we need to talk about it as we would any other health issue,” she said.
“I'm pretty certain that most youth are struggling with some area of their mental health. They're also at a time in their lives when it's really difficult to talk about it and we don't want to have these kinds of secrets, we want to have them brought forward.”
The mother says her daughter feels like she’s been left out, and has decided she doesn’t want to take part in a team that treats her differently from others because of a mental health issue.
“She doesn't feel like she has to cover her arms and legs, and I'm not going to force her to do so,” she said.
“We're working towards ending the stigma surrounding mental health and this situation right here is increasing it. It's not helping.”
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