- Students and staff who are mentally healthy are better able to learn, connect, and participate positively in their community
- Schools have an opportunity to promote positive mental health because it’s good for everyone and can be done by anyone
- Evidence-based strategies for classes and schools can help to build:
- Social emotional skills
- Mental health literacy
Schools and Mental Health
Not sure how to help the kid in the corner who can’t make friends? Wondering how to help students manage their “drama” and be kind? Struggling with the class that’s bouncing off the walls? Mental health is embedded in school life every single day yet educators feel they don’t always have the tools they need to support students, or themselves!
1 in 5
children and youth will experience
a mental health problem
of mental illnesses
begin in adolescence
of 18-34 year olds in
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Universal mental health promotion programs in schools and classrooms can help, not just with students managing mental health problems but with EVERYONE. Evidence has shown these programs to improve: (Centre for School Mental Health, n.d.):
Grade point average
Commitment to school
Standardized reading and math test scores
Behavioural and emotional symptoms
Access to care and utilization by ethnic minorities
Investing in students’ mental health pays off in the time, and money, that we spend. Research also suggests that providing students these tools now can help improve their chances of maintaining good mental health for the rest of their lives to continue being active and engaged adults (Taylor, Oberle, Durlak, & Weissberg, 2017).
Need help for someone now? Go to our map of community services to find help.
What Can Educators Do?
As adults and educators, we have a key role to play in supporting students by:
- Recognizing the symptoms of mental health problems
- Refer them to the mental health care system where professionals can help young people to manage their illnesses
- Support them to succeed in the settings that they live, work, and play in
Not all interventions are created equal. There are countless strategies that claim to teach students about mental health but not all of them are effective, feasible, or even safe for young people. We’ve created a database of evidence-based interventions and a list of simple steps that you can take to promote positive mental health in your school, no matter who you are.
Compasses don’t tell us which direction to go but they help us to know where we are and make a decision about where to go. The acronym COMPASS can help us to orient ourselves and our work towards becoming a mentally healthier space.
Speak with your school leader about the benefits of fostering a mentally healthy class and school and commit to action! Sign up to Minds Connected to show your desire to support student mental health and get help to implement mental health promotion activities.
Lambton Kent District School Board and St. Clair District School Board are already supportive, so show your commitment by signing up to Minds Connected!
Fostering a mentally healthy classroom or school is not to be done alone, organizing means finding your supports! Whether you’re leveraging a pre-existing team for a whole-school initiative or acquiring expertise from key colleagues in your building, it’s important to bring people along.
A couple things to remember:
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Schools are already busy with committees and work groups, so see if there’s a group that might be interested in doing similar work.
- Keep decision makers informed. Even through your school leader many not be involved in your classroom initiative, it’s important to keep them informed so they can help to support you and your students.
- Consult with experts. If you have questions or concerns about a student or a program, consult with the mental health professionals available in your board. They can help you to make decisions about what information is appropriate and how to support students in need.
- Consider both teaching, non-teaching staff, volunteers, students, parents/caregivers, and community partners. Mental health champions are everywhere and you could find support the most unlikely places.
Even though you want to get started with initiatives, it’s important to understand what exists in your school community. The program you choose will focus on bolstering your community’s strengths and addressing any gaps or challenges you see through mapping. Answering the following questions will help you to understand (and save you work in the future):
- What does our organization already know about mental health and illness?
- What gaps exist in your knowledge? What do you wish you knew more about?
- What do others say? Ask a broad range of stakeholders.
- What is needed?
- Which tiers are you targeting?
- What does our data say?
- This includes climate data, office visits, anecdotal information from staff, students and parents.
- What mental health care exists in the community?
- Check out the Minds Connected Community Services Listing.
- What is our capacity to deliver mental health awareness education?
- What resources do we currently have to support a mental health initiative?
- Who else can we leverage for expertise and resources?
- What strategies exists to address our needs and fit our capacity?
- What existing initiatives exist and how can we align with and augment them?
- This includes Board mental health strategy and school improvement plans.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE INTERVENTION (Browne et al., 2004):
- Focus on strengthening or developing protective factors rather than focusing on reducing current negative behaviours.
- It addresses a specific problem or develops specific skills rather than broad, vague interventions
- It involves multiple levels of the child’s social environment such as parents, school and community.
- It involves multiple levels of the child’s social environment such as parents, school and community.
- It uses a sound theoretical basis to support its strategies and goals.
- It does not rely on only didactic format of teaching lessons.
- It is a long-term intervention that has a continued presence of the right adult staff or mentors.
Choosing the right program is important. This resource from School Mental Health Ontario has important questions to consider. You should also bring this to your school leadership, mental health professionals, and the group you put together in the ORGANIZE step.
Once you’ve decided on a program, it’s time for a plan. The way a program is implemented can be just as impactful as the program content itself so it’s important to have a good plan in place before acting on it.
- Who are you targeting?
- Which Tier of students?
- Who will deliver the program?
- Do they have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to deliver the program?
- Are experts needed?
- Who else needs to know?
- Does a team need advance notice so they can be prepared to support?
- Do parents/caregivers need information so they can support the content outside of school?
- What type of initiative will you be undertaking?
- What curriculum connections exist?
- What resources do you need to deliver the program?
- Consider training for staff and prep time.
- What evidence is there to support the program?
- Timing of delivery is crucial, consider:
- Frequency (Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Annually?)
- Time of day (Before or after recess? Beginning of class or at the end? After school?)
- Day of week (Mondays and Fridays can be challenging to transition days for some students. Avoid things like guest speaker presentations due to absences but include extra transition time for regularly scheduled well-being activities)
- Year round or at specific times of the year (During awareness weeks and exam times or ongoing throughout the year?
- When does it get cancelled/rescheduled?
- Program facilitator is not present? Assemblies? After a tragic event?
- In class? In School? Off-site?
- In a specific section of the classroom or school?
- How will you deliver the material?
- How will you adapt the program to meet the needs of the students?
- How will you identify and refer students who are in need of support?
- How will you know its succeeding in achieving your goal?
- Each intervention has an evaluation resource that you can use to determine how progress is being made. This can help inform whether you continue with the program or plan to abandon it.
Some interventions can be harmful, produce unintended effects, or not result in any changes at all! Learn more about deciding on EBP from School Mental Health Ontario Decision Support Tool.
Here are a couple of things to remember:
- One-time events and presentations build awareness but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last long. Smaller, repeated awareness tends to stick better.
- Safety first! Psychological safety is important when talking about mental health problems. If you think a conversation may become emotional, make sure you know who can help or invite a mental health professional in to be available on site.
- Plan to evaluate your initiatives before you start acting. Answer this question: how will you know your work as made a difference? What information can you share with others to demonstrate your impact?
And.. GO! The plan is in place so it’s time to execute it. Keep note of any changes, bumps, and successes so you can adapt and improve. Most importantly, keep at it. Implementing a new program can be tough but most programs need a certain “dosage” for it to become effective.
Evaluate as you go. Take stock of how the program is going and measure the outcomes the intervention is designed to bolster.
So, what did you learn? How and with whom can we share our learnings? Let everyone know how it went! We can help you analyze some of your evaluation data so you can share back with your relevant stakeholders to celebrate your success and help others take advantage of the lessons you learned.
Sharing can be helpful for the next stage, sustaining your efforts. Share results with your staff, students, Board leaders, school community, and potential funders to help to rally support for your efforts and help others to see the value in the program going forward. And don’t forget to celebrate!
Learning about mental health doesn’t just happen one time. Like math, languages, and sciences, we continue to learn and grow our understanding. Creating a mentally healthy space is a process and determining how you want to sustain the learning, program, or initiative is important to the sustain the benefits. You may want to consider:
- What are our next steps?
- What resources are needed to maintain the
- How do you sustain the knowledge?
- On-boarding new staff
- Refreshing current staff
Browne, G., Gafni, A., Roberts, J., Byrne, C., & Majumder, B. (2004). Effective/efficient mental health programs for school-aged children: A synthesis of reviews. Social Science & Medicine. 58(7), 1367-1384.
Centre for School Mental Health (n.d.). The impact of school mental health: Educational, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. Retrieved from: http://csmh.umaryland.edu/media/SOM/Microsites/CSMH/docs/CSMH-SMH-Impact-Summary-July-2013-.pdf.
Taylor, R. D., Oberle, E., Durlak, J. A. and Weissberg, R. P.(2017), Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School‐Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A meta‐analysis of follow‐Up effects. Child Development, 88: 1156–1171.