Social pressures and stigma are different for school-aged children than the general population. Children and adolescents need support to manage the many challenges that young people face including academic and social stressors.
Schools present a valuable opportunity for mental health promotion and illness prevention and can act as a hub for resources.
Local school boards currently implement a variety of mental health promotion and illness prevention activities including building awareness, skills and knowledge with staff and students.
Some parents are not aware of the activities and supports offered in schools for children’s mental health.
Greater attention to evaluation and monitoring of mental health activities in schools may strengthen the case for continued investment.
Measures to improve mental health literacy and help-seeking in students must engage youth and be well connected to appropriate community resources.
“A lot of kids are feeling pressured at school. There’s the pressure to get good grades and the constant thought of the future. Not only do we have this pressure to deal with but there’s also the social pressure. It seems that nowadays if you don’t look a certain way you are judged. A lot of times these pressures are bigger than the school pressures.”
– Student, Grade 9
2014 Student Survey Data
Grade 7-12 Students Lambton and Chatham-Kent Combined
Able to enjoy their normal day-to-day activities most or all the time
Reported feeling worthless “all of the time”
Would tell an adult if a friend was considering self-harm
Reported that they were currently receiving (or waiting to receive) treatment for an emotional or behavioural issue
Report losing sleep “all of the time” because they were worried
Said there was not one adult staff member that they would be comfortable going to for help or support
Top 3 Stressors
Feel pressure to act or appear a certain way on social media
Report being under a lot of stress “all of the time” in the past 12 months
What Do Lambton Parents Say About Mental Health in Schools?
Half of parents we surveyed have concerns about their children’s mental health, but there is a low awareness of available resources. Seven in 10 parents say they have relatively easy access to resources for children’s mental health and illness, but only 17% strongly agree.
About half of parents agree that their children’s school would have the resources to help if they had concerns about their children’s mental health. This is compared to a provincial sample of parents in which only 37% agreed that their child’s school would have resources to help with a mental health issue. A quarter of Lambton parents said their school is not prepared with resources, and, importantly, another quarter said they neither agree nor disagree or don’t know.
When it comes to accessing supports for those in need, parents with children diagnosed with a mental illness are significantly more likely to say they do not have convenient access to the resources they need (37% vs. 11% of parents with children not diagnosed with a mental illness).
When we asked parents how to improve mental health in schools, there were calls for including mental health as a formal part of the school curriculum. Participants saw an opportunity for helping children and young people develop self-awareness on mental health issues and equipping them with coping strategies. In addition to equipping children and young people with skills, participants saw an opportunity to designate and train school teachers to offer additional help with school work, to help children feel that they have a “safe person” to confide in, and to be able to refer to appropriate community resources.
Among Lambton Parents:
SAY THEY ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE MENTAL HEALTH OF THEIR CHILDREN
7 IN 10 SAY THEY HAVE EASY ACCESS TO RESOURCES FOR CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH AND ILLNESS
THINK THAT THEIR CHILD’S SCHOOL WOULD HAVE THE RESOURCES TO HELP IF THEY HAD CONCERNS ABOUT THEIR CHILD’S MENTAL HEALTH
“I think just building this more into the health component of the curriculum even for younger children. Working at ways to explain it to them in an age appropriate manner would be a good start. It would help kids understand and develop more self-awareness and skills to support their peers if they learn about this at a younger age.”
– Community member
Among students who wrote suggestions for their school to improve student mental wellbeing, there were three major themes: a) the need for students to be ‘heard’ and having places to voice their concerns within the school, b) having greater access to trained mental health professionals, and c) making schools more positive, inclusive places as a whole.
What have schools been doing?
Since the release of Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Open Minds, Healthy Minds in 2011, a great deal of work has occurred in schools to increase mental health promotion and illness prevention activities. With support from a provincial implementation team School Mental Health ASSIST, every school board in the province has a Mental Health Lead, a Mental Health Leadership Team, and a Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. The lead, team, and strategy work to build educator understanding, improve access to supports, and implement programs and curricula to promote mental health in students.
Building staff understanding of mental health
Providing training sessions to increase knowledge, skills, and confidence to promote mental health and support mental illnesses.
Local boards offer training for staff:
Building students’ social emotional skills
Empowering students to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Elementary interventions – mindfulness programs, cognitive-behavioural-based programs, strategies for managing stress
Secondary interventions – resilience and mental health awareness curriculum, peer support to transition out of secondary school
Building safer and more supportive environments
Listening to the voices of students to improve school environment and support well-being.
School improvement plans, School wellness committees, Climate Survey results and action, cultural awareness, community partnerships
Building more responsive systems for mental health care
Establishing clear pathways and partnerships to improve connections for children and youth to, through, and from mental health care
Local boards have developed:
“I would like the School Board to work on incorporating mental wellness into their daily curriculum, I would like more prevention in early years, more withdrawal management and addiction services, day treatment for youth that cannot manage in a school setting and require intensive treatment.”
– Youth mental health care worker