Youth mental health is of great concern in Canada and around the world. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental disorder; other studies indicate even higher rates of depression, behavioural issues, and bullying in school settings. In addition to problems with attendance associated with these issues, learning is also often negatively impacted. Many researchers and practitioners believe that incorporating mental health programming into curricula is critical to addressing this issue. When the Mental Health Commission of Canada released the nation’s first national mental health strategy in 2012, child and youth mental health was identified as a priority and school-based programs were suggested as an effective tool to promote mental health.
Many programs have been implemented on a board, district, or provincial level in Canada; a recent scan published by the School-based Mental Health and Substance Abuse (SBMHSA) consortium identified over 100 programs currently in use across the country. The challenge in determining which programs are most effective lies in the lack of evidence-based research. While the body of research around school-based mental health programs is growing steadily, it is scattered, often evaluating a single program in a single setting and few programs have more than one or two evaluations. Based on this limited evidence, two programs were strongly recommended in the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Toolkit developed by the Canadian Prevention Science Cluster (Atlantic). They are Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) and Second Step. Another program, Zippy’s Friends, achieved positive results in a Quebec study.
Despite the scattered nature of program evaluation, the research that does exist indicates a common understanding on the characteristics of an effective program. School based programs should:
- be part of a comprehensive school health initiative and reach all students rather than targeting those identified as having mental health issues;
- be collaborative – with educators, students, parents, community agencies, and health providers working together;
- focus on promotion of positive mental health rather than reaction to mental illness;
- be adaptable to meet the needs and resources of the setting.
Additionally, attention must be paid to how programs are implemented in schools. Even when adapted to suit the local circumstances, programs must be delivered with fidelity to the original design. The process and outcomes must be closely monitored to ensure the desired results are achieved. Resources need to be available for training and support of program delivery personnel.
The mental well-being of children and youth is a critical issue for parents, educators, health care providers, researchers, and policy-makers. These groups need to work together not only to continue gathering evidence on programming models, but to also begin building effective or promising programs into curricula now.
CHILD AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMMING
Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)
CHILD AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
School Mental Health Assist
First Call – B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Canadian Health & Youth Health Coalition
Teen Mental Health
Related Videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/teenmentalhealth1
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Ontario Public School Boards Association
Canadian Prevention Science Cluster – Atlantic
Canadian Prevention Science Cluster
Pan-Canadian Consortium on Youth Mental Health – Positive Mental Health Toolkit
Fast Facts about Mental Illness – Canadian Mental Health Association
Improving Health and Wellbeing for Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts
International Alliance for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Schools
Partners for Mental Health
MENTAL HEALTH WEBSITES FOR YOUTH
Mental Health Commission of Canada Youth Council
My Health Magazine – Youth Edition
CHILD AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM SCANS
A Scan of Canadian Practices – School Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Consortium
Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development – Centre for the Study of Prevention of Violence
What Works Clearinghouse – Institute of Educational Sciences
CASEL Guide – Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs
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