Schools are an Excellent Place for Promoting Mental Health
Children and youth in Ontario spend a good portion of every day in school, ten months of the year, from as early as age three. This setting offers tremendous opportunity each day to help students to learn and practice social-emotional skills and mentally healthy habits within welcoming, caring, and inclusive settings.
Schools and Mental Health Promotion
Using every day mental health practices, educators can help students to identify and manage their emotions, build and maintain relationships, deepen their identity and sense of mattering, learn how to manage stress, and maintain an optimistic outlook. Educators can also create the conditions for learning by emphasizing skills for academic success like goal-setting, problem-solving, task focus, and decision-making. Within mentally healthy schools and classrooms, we can nurture identity, relationships and a sense of belonging. We can also teach explicitly, and in developmentally-appropriate ways, about mental health literacy. SMH ASSIST is co-creating a range of evidence-based, implementation-sensitive practices; alongside practicing educators, school mental health professionals, and students, to encourage high-quality, sustainable mental health promotion in Ontario schools.
Schools and Early Identification
As educators, we can also recognize early when a student might be struggling with a mental health problem. Knowing a student at school, and noticing small changes in behavior and emotions over time, help educators to sometimes be the eyes, ears, and hearts that are the first to recognize the early signs of mental illness. We can support students to find the words to describe how they are feeling, and to access appropriate help for them and their families.
Schools and Prevention / Early Intervention
In Ontario schools, we can also provide structured preventive services for students who need support for mild to moderate mental health problems, through regulated health professionals like school social workers, psychologists, and psychological associates. These professionals have been providing services in support of students who experience mental health problems for decades, and are often the first clinicians mobilized in crisis situations, and the bridge to, from, and through more intensive services provided in community and hospital settings. SMH ASSIST provides expertise-level capacity-building support to these school mental health professionals and is working with provincial associations to develop a suite of evidence-based, implementation-sensitive structured psychotherapy tools to support this daily work in schools.
You may wish to consult The Promise of School Mental Health Infographic for more information about the return on investment for school mental health promotion and prevention.
The Aligned and Integrated Model described the multi-tiered system of support in Ontario schools. It articulates some of the key roles for school-based professionals across the continuum of support; from promotion, to prevention, to intervention. You may wish to review our on-line tutorial on the mentally healthy classroom for more information about this model.