Synergy between sectors: Toronto DSB and Public Health Collaborate to Promote Student Leadership in Mental Health & Well-Being

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

By: Saleem Haniff – TDSB Mental Health & Well-Being Leader @TDSB_MHWB

Over the past few months, TDSB Mental Health Leads have collaborated with the Healthy Schools & Substance Misuse Prevention Team from Toronto Public Health (TPH) and student well-being leaders from across the district to plan and facilitate four Student Mental Health & Well-Being Leadership Summits.

In total, the events that occurred in each area of our district, we welcomed over 650 students and staff representing 82 schools. The summits were an opportunity for many secondary schools to network with other schools, develop leadership skills, gain foundational knowledge, information and resources. Schools were encouraged to invite emerging leaders in grades 9 and 10 to build leadership capacity in coming years.

The TDSB Mental Health Leads, TPH Health Promotion Specialists and Liaison Public Health Nurses (LPHN`s) spent a considerable amount of time working with student well-being leaders from various secondary schools, to help bolster their ability to facilitate learning for their peers around key concepts in mental health and well-being, such as: safety setting, clarifying language (defining mental health and mental illness), stigma and how to address it, clarifying the role of a student mental health and well-being leader, facilitating ice breakers and physical activity breaks while making the link between physical and mental health clear.

Part of the day saw schools with long-standing mental health and well-being initiatives share some of their best practices and challenges with their peers. Staff advisors from these schools also built on the student presentations later in the day in a staff only session, by facilitating a discussion around gaining buy in from administration and colleagues, student recruitment and ongoing engagement, success and challenges, and measuring impact. TDSB and TPH leads also shared resources with staff in this session, as we have noticed over the past few years that not all staff advisors had the information and resources they needed to effectively support their student’s wellness activities.

The morning at each event was capped off with sharing from our board-wide student mental health & well-being committee – Students 4 Well-Being (S4W) and a keynote from UNITY. S4W shared their recent video entitled “Why Well-Being?”, highlighting the importance of mental health and well-being at school and their mandate of connecting and sharing resources with students across the district (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBMF4NMET9s).

The keynote from UNITY, a TDSB partner organization whose mission is to “use hip hop to improve young people’s lives creating healthier communities,” used a mix of entertaining, engaging and inspirational student and UNITY staff presentations and performances (dance, beat boxing, spoken word). They delivered a message about the importance of creativity as a healthy outlet for stress, the power of connection and relationships to overall well-being, and the importance of finding your passion and purpose in life.

After lunch, there were a few breakout workshops on three mental health and well-being topics identified as being priorities with our students – social media, equity and relationships. These dynamic presentations were delivered by TDSB staff from our social work, gender based violence, equity and health and physical education departments.

To close out the day, school groups gathered to share some of their learning within their group and the larger group, had some time to collaborate with their LPHN to plan initiatives in their own school communities with the newfound knowledge, information and resources, and shared feedback with us through an online survey accessed through their mobile devices (with paper copies for those who preferred that medium). One of the major components of each event was to provide students with easily consumable concepts, ideas, resources, and activities that they could take back to their schools and replicate, adapt and use as they see fit to raise awareness and further develop a culture of wellness within their school communities.