It is evident that educators and school districts are trying to support mental health in children and youth within schools. It is also evident that there is a need for school-based mental health programs and services as well as a mandated policy for addressing the issue of mental health. This is important because children and youth who suffer from mental health problems tend to face difficulties educationally as well as socially. If parents and educators work together, they can help students succeed.
The Ontario government is committed to “providing a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy beginning with children and youth” (pg.2). Since early signs of mental health issues may become apparent through behaviour changes, difficulty focusing, or dropping grades, Open Minds, Healthy Minds, released by the Ontario government, includes some strategies to help teachers act on those first signs. These strategies to help with identification of the early signs of mental health issues and intervention are:
– using mental health literacy and cross-sectoral training
– implementing programs through schools and community-based agencies
– improving resources available in schools.
Through the collaboration of school district leaders with community agencies, parents, youth, and provincial organizations, an outline of the required principles for the support and implementation of effective, evidence-based programs and services to address mental health and well-being in schools. These principles are:
– System of care: Recognizing that different students need different levels and types of support at different times. Also recognizing that the school is part of the larger community and working together to help provide programs and services.
– Organizational development: Creating necessary conditions and contextualizing mandates and initiatives.
– Alignment: Aligning mental health and well-being programs in schools with system initiatives.
– Effective communications: Communication with system and community stakeholders.
– Capacity-building: Ensuring capacity-building is available for staff at both the school and systems levels.
– Collaboration: Ensuring effective collaboration.
Effective practices to build and co-ordinate a mental health and well-being strategy in schools involves:
- The development of a strategy and identifying the required resources and partners
- Providing evidence-based programming through a tiered approach
- Teams with multiple backgrounds to identify needs and resources
- A review and modification of the program or service
- Involving parents
- Briefings that highlight effective, evidence-based practices
- The presence of a leadership structure that is integrated and community-based
- Regional and provincial collaboration
- Developing a system of care through collaboration
- Monitoring through a feedback and evaluation process.
Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE). (2012). School-based mental health and well-being. Advisory, 16. Retrieved from http://www.ontariodirectors.ca/CODE_Advisories/Downloads/CODE%20Advisory%20No%2016%20Web.pdf.