Open Minds, Healthy Minds: Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy (2011) is one of Ontario’s first documents surrounding the need for mental health awareness, prevention, and intervention. While this document is broad in that it is not limited to school programming, it is an important step to raising awareness about mental health. The document details four goals for mental health, well-being, and addictions:
- Improve mental health and well-being for all Ontarians,
- Create healthy, resilient, inclusive communities,
- Identify mental health and addictions problems early and intervene, and
- Provide timely, high quality, integrated, person-directed health and other human services.
As seen, these goals are very broad, and even the accompanying explanations do not offer any detailed strategies on how they will be achieved. However, there was one idea that correlates with our area of research, in that appropriate “policy, guidelines, and tools” need to be developed to match the needs of those with mental health problems (p.12). Goal 3, identifying problems early and intervening also pertains to our research. In this area, the Ontario government plans to:
– implement mental health literacy and cross-sectorial training on early identification and intervention for educators;
– implement programs through schools and community-based agencies to enable early identification and referral for treatment; and
– enhance mental health resources in schools.
As a response to this document, the Ontario Ministry of Education published Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-Being (2013). This document is similar to the curriculum from Nova Scotia in that it has information about the different types of mental illnesses, but it is more information-based than lesson-based. Instead of lessons, there are lots of different strategies to help students who are dealing with anxiety, mood problems (depression and bipolar disorder), ADHD, behaviour problems, eating and weight-related problems, substance use problems, gambling, and self-harm and suicide (p.2-3). For each category, there are also warning signs, which is key for educators; if they can recognize warning signs and symptoms, they can help their students get the help they need right away. I found that many of the strategies listed to help students were similar; these ones reappeared with each section:
– create predictable routines in the classroom
– help students break large assignments into smaller chunks
– model positive and optimistic language as well as positive behaviour
– help students develop realistic goals
– check in with students to see how they’re feeling / adjust homework
– provide advance warning to changes in routine
– determine students’ strengths and needs and adjust instruction accordingly
– find ways to engage students such as through understanding their interests
– provide students with visual reminders of key actions or materials
– incorporate activities that build confidence and self-esteem
– be available to listen to students in a supportive way
If teachers can create positive, safe, supportive, and accepting classroom environments, then students will feel comfortable, and school will become a place where they want to be every day. That being said, this document only serves as a guideline for educators. It is still imperative that talk about mental health be incorporated into schools through curriculum changes, creation of awareness / support groups, and links to community partnerships, which can be done through a mandated policy. These changes will decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness in the hope that more children and youth will receive the help and support they need.
Government of Ontario. (2011). Open Minds, Healthy Minds: Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. Retrieved from: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/common/ministry/publications/reports/mental_health2011/mentalhealth_rep2011.pdf
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-Being. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/reports/SupportingMinds.pdf