Supporting Students’ Mental Well-Being
The mental well-being of children and youth is of growing concern in Canada and throughout the world. Information provided on the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website indicates that 10 to 20 percent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, that Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world, and that over three million 12 to 19 year olds are at risk of developing depression. Additionally, only one out of five children who need mental health services receives them.
Working Together for Change: A 10 Year Mental Health and Addictions Plan for Saskatchewan, released by the Government of Saskatchewan in December 2014, presents several system goals for all human service sectors. Recommendations that are focused on early intervention and prevention, and on building awareness of mental health issues in children and youth through curricula and specific programming, call on the education sector to continue to play an important role. The report cautions, however, that classroom teachers cannot be expected to become mental health professionals. Rather, providing educational opportunities for them to enhance the skills needed to work as members of collaborative teams, to identify and understand the issues faced by their students, to intervene effectively, to help students build problem-solving skills, and to facilitate access to professional treatment, would be beneficial for their supportive role.
An online fact sheet produced by the Canadian Education Association titled “The Facts on Education: What Are Effective Approaches to Improving Students’ Mental Well-Being?” is a good tool for providing awareness of mental health issues. Links to information on child and youth mental health programming, mental health organizations and evidence-based practice are provided. The fact sheet is available at www.cea-ace.ca/publication/facts-education-what-are-effective-approaches-improving-students%E2%80%99-mental-well-being.
Can We Talk? Creating a Compassionate Classroom, an online guide for teachers produced through a partnership of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Canadian Mental Health Association, was created to increase the awareness of the mental health needs of children and to decrease the stigmatization often associated with mental illness. It differentiates between mental health problems and mental illness, refutes myths about mental illness, describes common mental illnesses, outlines treatment options and suggests what teachers can do to promote students’ well-being. It is available at www.canwetalk.ca.
Numerous print resources on this topic that were written with teachers in mind are available from the Stewart Resources Centre. When Something’s Wrong: Strategies for Teachers, by Dr. Stanley Kutcher, is a handbook that teachers and in-school administrators can use to assist students with mood, behaviour and thinking problems. The 12 segments in the guide are based on specific disorders and offer strategies and resources for coping.
In Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall point out that teachers face the impact of trauma in their classrooms on a regular basis. The book, which is suitable for all grade levels, provides strategies for understanding trauma, building strong relationships and adopting strength-based approaches that counter problematic behaviours.
Other books are geared to mental health professionals such as social workers, school counsellors and psychologists. Child and Adolescent Suicidal Behavior: School-Based Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention, by David N. Miller, is a best practice guide to use when intervening with potentially suicidal students. Information on developing evidence-based suicide prevention policies and programs at the district level is also included.
Creative Interventions With Traumatized Children, edited by Cathy A. Malchiodi, contains numerous expressive, experiential and body-based creative arts strategies that therapists can use to promote healing.
To borrow the resources described above, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.