There seems to be a recent shift in the way educational institutions approach mental health. It’s an exciting time for me and the program I work for, and for all educators who just want to do their job better. It is also long overdue for families and students who are living with mental health issues. Here in Ontario, where I live and have worked as a teacher, I’m seeing giant steps in the right direction at the Ministry and Board of Education level. Hopefully this shift in approaching mental health and wellness will empower administrators, teachers and support staff to create more mentally healthy schools and ultimately improve the lives of students and their families.
It should be noted that this kind of top-down systems change is not the only exciting thing happening in student mental health. Young people can be a powerful force to initiate systems change and resource creation as well. Since its foundation in 2005, the program I work for, mindyourmind, has partnered with youth and young adults to co-create mostly web-based tools and resources around the topic of mental health. These resources are accessed by people in 195 countries, through millions of online interactions via www.mindyourmind.ca and mindyourmind’s other web platforms and social media accounts.
Hopefully this shift in approaching mental health and wellness will empower administrators, teachers and support staff to create more mentally healthy schools and ultimately improve the lives of students and their families.
As mindyourmind’s program progressed over the years, we realized that our site had become a kind of public utility – teachers and other youth-serving professionals were using our tools with their students and clients to facilitate and engage in discussions about mental health. As teachers continue to see students in need, and mental health is becomes a focus for more and more school boards across Canada, we have seen an increase in requests for resources and presentations. This may be indicative of the fact that educators want to address the topic of mental health, but may not feel like they have the time or the expertise to do so effectively.
In 2008, the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) in Southwestern Ontario approached mindyourmind to develop resources for Grade 11 Physical Health Education, and Grade 9/10 Guidance and Learning Strategies. Through this collaboration, the outlines of the “Minding Your Mind” lessons were created. The lessons are digital modules which are housed online. They feature mindyourmind videos, games and interactives, are designed to meet Ministry expectations and the unique needs of the TVDSB’s populations. A teacher’s guide is included in the lessons, which offers class discussion primers and activity extension suggestions. The lessons can be self-directed by the student in a computer lab, each student clicking through and completing at their own pace, or be taught through a more facilitated approach by the teachers.
The lessons were later evaluated as part of The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Opening Minds study, measuring the impact of different types of programs and their effect on stigma reduction. The changes in stigma and the increased social tolerance in student responses as a result of the Minding Your Mind lessons showed that this digital lesson approach was effective.
It was so encouraging to see actual research support what mindyourmind already felt about the work that we are doing: Creating resources with young people works. Our tools do a great job of presenting information effectively and in a way that is relevant to youth, and can help teachers address what can be a tricky topic for some in a positive way.
How do we insert mental health info into a Civics class, or a Writer’s Craft class, without disrupting what the teacher needs to get done in an already saturated course workload?
My role here at mindyourmind is to develop more resources that will help teachers bring conversations about mental health into their classrooms, even in subjects that wouldn’t normally directly address mental health. I’ve heard some compare this task to “hiding the vegetables”. How do we insert mental health info into a Civics class, or a Writer’s Craft class, without disrupting what the teacher needs to get done in an already saturated course workload? We have a few projects on the go, including a resource for dance educators, which is being piloted this spring. It’s exciting work!
If you are a teacher, how do you support conversations about mental health in your classroom? How might you address mental health while teaching a course that doesn’t explicitly ask you to in the curriculum?
This blog post is part of CEA’s focus on student mental health, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s student mental health theme issue and a Facts on Education fact sheet on what the research says about effective approaches to improving students’ mental well-being. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute a blog post to this series.