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Image copied from Ministry of Education document Leading Mentally Healthy Schools document

Is mental health a school issue?

Roughly one in five students in Canadian schools struggle with a mental health problem that is severe and persistent (emotional, behavioural and brain-related disturbances) and that interferes with their day to day functioning.
In 70% of cases, the onset of problems begins before age 18 with 50% of cases starting before age 14.  
Up to 80% of children and youth who experience a mental health problem will not receive treatment.

From Leading Mentally Healthy Schools:

“There is a clear relationship between student mental health problems and academic difficulties. When students are preoccupied with emotional concerns they cannot participate fully in learning.”  

“Schools are, indeed, an optimal setting to reduce stigma, promote positive mental health, build student social-emotional learning skills, prevent the development of mental health problems in high risk groups, identify students in need, and support them along the pathway to service.”

According to a recent report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (School-Based Mental Health in Canada: A Final Report, 2013), schools are an ideal place to provide universal mental health promotion in teaching coping skills and provide early intervention for students who may not have otherwise received treatment.

The Ministry of Education has also released its Vision Statement for Education in Ontario and identified ‘Promoting Well-Being’ as one of the four goals for education.  In ‘Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario’ released April, 2014 they state:
“Children and students who have a strong relationships and a positive sense of self – and who can understand and manage their own health and emotions – are in a better position to reach their full potential in the future.  Their sense of well-being supports their learning because it makes them more resilient and better able to overcome challenges.  Ontario’s education system needs to help students build the knowledge and skills associated with positive well-being and become healthy, active, and engaged citizens.”

Student Perspective

A study was completed this year with Ontario youth (including focus groups in Kingston) entitled “Building a Better School Environment for Youth with Mental Health and Addictions Issues” (Children’s Mental Health Ontario, 2013).  There results indicated the following:
  • The highest ranked resource needed was a designated safe space at school
  • 46% of youth identified stigma as a barrier in their schools to seeking support
  • 26% youth said mental illness was not addressed in their school curriculum
  • Youth identified the need for adults in schools to improve communication with students struggling with mental illness and addictions