As part of our board’s commitment to promoting positive mental health, we intentionally decided to run a fall 2014 poster campaign focused on transitioning from Grade 8 to Grade 9. We designed our poster to focus on positive mental health, the importance of self-care, and the connection between physical health and mental well-being.
Some of the messages on the poster included: relax; don’t dwell on the negative; don’t bottle things up; make time for me-time; eat healthy; sleep eight to 10 hours a night; get active; talk to someone you trust. The ‘fine print’ reminded youth that we all have mental health – like we all have physical health – and that we can care for our mental health by following the poster’s advice. The poster also provided information about Kids Help Phone, and some youth-friendly websites.
On the first day of classes, homeroom teachers handed out the posters to every Grade 9 student. Teachers reviewed the messages on the poster with students, and then shared information about seeking help at school. We know that many Grade 9 students don’t know, or don’t remember, that there are additional caring adults in secondary schools such as guidance counselors, student success teachers and chaplains. Students were told about the board-level professional support staff assigned to every school, including social workers, child and youth counselors and psychological services staff. Students were given information about how to access these services, and encouraged to speak with their teachers if they had any questions or concerns.
These posters were well-received in our secondary school communities. In fact, the response was so positive that teachers asked for extra copies of the posters for their classrooms. In response, we expanded the campaign and distributed posters board-wide during Children’s Mental Health Week in May 2015.
We adapted the poster for elementary-level students by adding graphics, and changing some of the messages. The posters were hung in every classroom, and in common areas throughout our schools on the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week. Again, students were given a developmentally-appropriate message about what the poster meant.
Our commitment to our youth transitioning to secondary school was expanded this year to include presentations to all of our late August “Head Start” classes on coping with stress, seeking help and caring adults. As a follow-up to this presentation, all Grade 9 students in our system were given a Be Well locker magnet, and were asked to hang it in their locker or on their fridge where they would see it every day, as a reminder to be well.
These posters, magnets and messages from teachers are making a positive difference in our school communities. Students and staff are acknowledging the positive dimension of mental health and the fact that we all have mental health. We are hearing students and teachers talking openly about mental health, rather than considering it a topic they should be ashamed of talking about. Students are making a link between physical health and mental well-being, and are regularly reminded that sleep, exercise, relaxation and healthy eating are all important for maintaining positive mental health. In addition, students are now more aware of the caring adults in their schools and understand how to seek help in our school board.