About Us

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School Mental Health ASSIST (SMH ASSIST) is a provincial implementation support team designed to help Ontario school boards to promote student mental health and well-being using evidence-based approaches.  This team of school mental health professionals, senior administrators and implementation scientists works alongside the Ministry of Education to provide leadership and guidance, ongoing coaching support, a suite of resources, and a community of practice for all Ontario school boards and remote school authorities.  SMH ASSIST offers its services directly to school boards via their Mental Health Leadership Team, most often through the Superintendent with responsibility for mental health and the board Mental Health Leader.

For a quick overview of SMH ASSIST, please feel free to use and share our School Mental Health ASSIST Infographic.

After several years of steady progress using an implementation science approach, the foundations for effective practice in school mental health have been set.  In 2017, SMH ASSIST announced Taking Flight, Strategic Directions for 2017-2020 that highlights six key pillars of action.  These are summarized in the System-Wide School Mental Health, Strategic Pillars Infographic.  We believe that these pillars can be used to focus school mental health work in any jurisdiction, to any scale.  Now that foundational work has grounded the work, SMH ASSIST is excited to be reaching out to students and families to encourage their engagement, voice, and leadership in supporting high-quality mental health programming across Ontario schools!

The McConnell Family Foundation has recently asked SMH ASSIST to identify and summarize core elements of the approach for sharing with other provinces and jurisdictions in Canada.  A process of data review and consultation led to the development of the ACQESS framework.  It is summarized at high level in the System-Wide School Mental Health, Core Elements of Success Infographic.  Very briefly, strategies and actions that have been critical in moving provincial school mental health efforts towards quality and coherence require strong attention to: Alignment, Consistency, Quality, Engagement, Scalability, and Sustainability.  If you have questions or wish to learn more about Taking Flight or the ACQESS Framework, contact info@smh-assist.ca.

For more detailed information about the theoretical background supporting the SMH ASSIST approach, please see the article posted in the International Journal of Mental Health PromotionIntentional, explicit, systematic: Implementation and scale-up of effective practices for supporting student mental well-being in Ontario schools.

Our Mission

School Mental Health ASSIST (SMH ASSIST) is a provincial implementation support team designed to help Ontario school boards promote student mental well-being, and to enhance support for students who struggle with mental health and addictions problems, through a focus on leadership, capacity-building, and implementation support.

Our Vision

School Mental Health ASSIST (SMH ASSIST) is a provincial implementation support team designed to help Ontario school boards promote student mental well-being, and to enhance support for students who struggle with mental health and addictions problems, through a focus on leadership, capacity-building, and implementation support.

Our Values/Commitments

School Mental Health ASSIST strives to ensure that supports are:

  • Responsive to the needs of Ontario school boards
  • Evidence-based
  • Implementation-sensitive
  • Aligned with Ontario initiatives, within Education and across sectors
  • Co-created with stakeholders
  • Attentive to issues of scale up and sustainability
  • Sensitive to student and family voice
  • Relevant across regions, official languages and specific populations

Our Implementation Science Approach

School Mental Health ASSIST provides Ontario school boards with leadership, coordination, practical resources and implementation coaching support. Our approach is grounded in implementation science – and a focus on four key principles:

Four Principles of our Approach:

  1. Mental Health Promotion and Prevention
  2. Tiered Intervention
  3. Implementation Stages, Drivers, Cycles, and Teams
  4. Sustainability and Scale Up

1. An Orientation towards Mental Health Promotion and Prevention

Most current definitions of mental health recognize that it is a desirable state of well-being or flourishing, rather than the absence of disease.  For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests that positive mental health is “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity”.  School Mental Health ASSIST embraces this positive stance towards mental health, and holds at the centre of this provincial work the desire to help to bring purpose, hope, belonging, and meaning to every Ontario student, drawing on the full intention of these concepts as represented in the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework.   And we note that mental health and mental illness occur along on a continuum, with the understanding that mental health is not simply the absence of illness and that, with appropriate care and support, those who are mentally ill can consistently experience a sense of positive mental wellness.

2. Adoption of a Tiered Intervention Framework

Tiered intervention frameworks are foundational for organizing school mental health activities. These frameworks help us to see the full continuum of service needed to ensure the best possible mental well-being for students. School Mental Health ASSIST has adopted a framework that includes:

  • mental health promotion for all students (universal mental health promotion),
  • preventive interventions for students at risk (targeted prevention), and
  • more intensive therapy for the most vulnerable students (selected/clinical intervention)

Further, we believe that in order to ensure that students receive the services that they need, when they need them, a cross-sectoral systems approach is required.

3. Focus on Implementation Stages, Drivers, Cycles, and Teams

Bringing research-based mental health programming to life in school systems requires much more than simply hosting events or awareness-building campaigns, providing staff training workshops, or purchasing a set of materials. In fact, sometimes one-off efforts like this can be detrimental, particularly for vulnerable students. Instead, a systematic and organized plan is required, so that foundations for sustainable programming can be put into place. The National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) outlines several key ingredients for optimal implementation. These include:

  • Implementation stages (the typical phases of the implementation process)
  • Implementation drivers (known best practices for promoting effective implementation)
  • Implementation cycles (iterative cycles that promote continuous improvement)
  • Implementation teams (groups with expertise in implementation methods that coordinate effective programs and strategies).

School Mental Health ASSIST has used these foundational concepts from implementation science to create a “made-in-Ontario” approach to bringing effective school mental health practices to scale across our 72 school districts.

4. Explicit Attention to Sustainability and Scale Up

SMH ASSIST strives to create a system-wide school mental health approach that ensures that every Ontario student has access to evidence-based mental health promotion and prevention programming.   To bring high-quality strategies and practices to scale in a province as large as Ontario, it is important to move beyond well-meaning but time-limited, proprietary, “one off”, or costly efforts that depend on local champions, pilot programs and temporary funding.  Instead, SMH ASSIST has been investing in the selection and testing of evidence-based, implementation-sensitive programming that can be readily embedded, maintained and scaled within the context of Ontario schools.  SMH ASSIST has developed an Innovation and Scale-Up Lab through which high-yield approaches can be co-created, evaluated and disseminated.

The SMH ASSIST team is comprised of a number of senior clinicians, system administrators, and implementation scientists.  Most of the team works part-time, and provides flexible support at the provincial, regional, and individual board level.  Bilingual members work full-time to ensure that all supports and resources are provided in both English and French.  Some team members also carry portfolios to support the Taking Flight strategic directions (e.g., Youth Engagement, Voice, and Leadership Portfolio, Equity and Specific Populations Portfolio).

We hope that you will take the time to reach out to the School Mental Health ASSIST Team for questions about our initiative, at info@smh-assist.ca. Please also contact your Board Mental Health Leader with district-specific inquiries.

Contact Board Mental Health Leaders and Superintendents