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The Importance of Mental Health Education in Schools

Early social and emotional development lay the foundation for resiliency throughout the lifespan. However, 70% of adults with mental illness see symptoms emerge in childhood and adolescence.

Some facts you should know…

• Mental illness affects approximately 1.2 million youth in Canada.
• By age 25, that number increases to 7.5 million (1 in 5 Canadians).
• The current generation of youth are experiencing the highest rates of mental health issues ever seen.
• Marginalized youth experience even higher rates of mental health concerns due to the intersection of several factors including violence, and poverty.

Mental health challenges are often pervasive, impacting many developmental outcomes. Poor mental health can have several detrimental effects on children and youth. Not only can it impact academic performance and success, but it may also interfere with social relationships and physical health.

Children who suffer from mental illnesses are at greater risk for adult onset physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They are also more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. There is no health without mental health. That is, if our youth are not mentally well, they will not be physically well and their ability to positively impact our society will be impaired. Despite an increase in the availability of mental health resources such as counselling and various treatment options, rates of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression continue to rise.

What can we do about this mental health crisis?

The solution lies, in part, in our schools.

To ensure optimum growth and development, mental health education needs to begin during early school years. During this time children form their first friendships and teenagers are shaping their self-worth and self-esteem. Growing up, youth are faced with a host of challenges including exclusion, bullying, conflict, and poor self esteem. It is important that we acknowledge and equip children with the tools needed to manage these challenges. In a combined effort between mental health professionals, parents and teachers, students’ mental health can be greatly improved, thus setting the stage for a healthier and happier future.

Some of the main reasons we, at the Stigma-Free Society advocate so hard to bring mental health education into the school are for the following reasons:

1) A primary goal of mental health education is to increase awareness. This involves teaching children what mental health means, and how to maintain positive mental health. It is vital that youth understand the concept of self-care and that they are responsible for their own mental health. In addition, emphasis should be placed on the idea that mental health is an integral part of overall health and well-being.

2) Another goal of mental health education is also to teach children, parents, and teachers how to recognize mental health related issues in themselves and others. When mental health problems are left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and negatively affect a child’s ability to grow and learn. Along with an increased understanding of the importance of mental health, children should be provided with strategies and tools to cope with mental health challenges.

3) Early intervention of mental health issues can also make a world of a difference. Small changes in behavior and thinking often occur before major mental illness appears. These early warning signs can be noticed by teachers, family, friends, and the individuals themselves, but only if they know what to look for. Some of these signs are mood changes, nervousness, withdrawal, and a decrease in academic performance. Early intervention can reduce the severity of the mental illness. It may also delay or even prevent the development of a major mental illness.

4) Mental health awareness can save lives. This issue of suicide and self-harm among teenagers is quite alarming. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15 – 24. Bringing awareness to the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses can help teens identify these issues and seek help before it is too late. By including education on mental health and information on how and where to access help, school can quite literally save lives.

5) Education can help serve to eliminate stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets an individual apart. These people are defined by their illness and associated to a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes toward stereotyped groups can lead to feelings of blame, shame, hopelessness, and distress. By educating our youth about mental illness, we begin to normalize mental illness conversations and the stigma surrounding it begins to dissipate.

In conclusion, the prevalence of mental illness in youth is increasing with each generation and we, as a society, have a responsibility to protect our children as best as we can.

Mental health education in schools can significantly impact students current and future mental health. It can also contribute to eliminating stigma and foster resiliency through the awareness of mental health. The benefits of this type of education is insurmountable.
Schools have the ability to promote positive mental health by building self-confidence and self-esteem. It is essential that children are taught about the importance of mental health, how to recognize signs of poor mental health, and how to seek out assistance for any mental health challenges.

By talking about mental health, we can promote greater acceptance and understanding which will in turn increase help-seeking behavior.
Mental health education in schools is extremely valuable as it can positively impact the lives of our children and youth. Please connect with us if you’re interested in bringing some mental health education to your school or classroom.

We’re happy to help you start the conversation.

Author, Cosette Leblanc, Intern, Stigma-Free Society

How Educators Can Use our NEW COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit

The Stigma-Free Society has been extremely pleased with the feedback on our new Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit. This new Toolkit is an online community-based participatory program that aims to promote mental wellness in grades 4-6 and grades 7-12. Both parents and students have provided incredibly useful feedback on the site, and the Charity is working hard every day to provide accurate information, additional resources, updated activities and continued education for educators, parents and students.

During the BETA launch of the Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit, we recognized that not only will parents and students benefit from the information on the site, but this is an incredibly useful tool to Educators who are navigating online education.

We are beyond excited to announce that the Surrey School District (SSD) is piloting our new Online Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit with their Educators in the coming months. The SSD has been an incredible supporter of the Stigma-Free Society and we are grateful for the support of Daniel To, Principal of the Surrey School District. Our Charity is very much looking forward to receiving feedback from all people who are helping to educate youth and teens.

The Stigma-Free Society welcomes your input on our Wellness Toolkit as an educational resource to online teaching. Upon visiting https://stigmafreetoolkit.com, click on the Educators Tab, which leads you to useful downloadable resources and showcases a menu to explore the rest of the website.

The COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit will be useful to Educators in the following ways:

  1. Help generate conversations with students during their online schooling (see SFS Conversation Cards);
  2. Explain COVID-19 to students in different ways and be a useful tool to help ensure that all students have the same information about COVID-19 (see our Video Library); and
  3. Provide ideas and suggestions for parents on activities that their kids can do to keep busy (see Youth/Teen Activity Generator).

Here are just a few ideas on how Educators can use the new COVID-19 Wellness Toolkit in their online classrooms:

  1. Share ‘Ben’s Story During COVID-19 Comic’ with students and have them create their own comic with their personal experiences at home, and ask them to re-frame their reactions during COVID-19;
  2. Share one of the many downloadable resources (e.g. 10 Ways to Help Manage Anxiety) and have students draft strategies that work well for themselves;
  3. Similar to the activity generator, have students create a poster on what they are doing to stay healthy during COVID-19 and have them refer to the poster during times of boredom, or confusion;
  4. Have students watch one of the many videos on the site and write a response about how they felt during the video, what they learned and information that helped them the most; and
  5. Have students refer to the ‘Inspiring Stories’ Page and share their own stories on a submitable 2-3 minute video, or research inspiring historical figures.

We truly appreciate Educators and especially those who have taken the time to navigate our new Online COVID-19 Toolkit.Thank you so much for providing us with some very useful feedback. We look forward to hearing from our Educators and learning how you are using the site, as well as hearing any feedback or suggestions that you may have.

Much support to you all during this time.

Author, Lindsay Goulet, CDM, Stigma-Free Society

Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit – COMING SOON!

The Stigma-Free Society is bound and determined to continue to educate youth on mental health issues and combat stigma of all kinds. With COVID-19 putting a halt to our school presentations, we decided to create a new online Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit.

Our new online COVID-19 Toolkit Program will inform educators and students in grades 4-6 and grades 7-12 about mental well-being, with an emphasis on living a Stigma-Free life. Without significant guidance and support, many young people may end up suffering in silence and isolation. The COVID-19 Toolkit Program will work to eliminate this harmful reality, and instead, provide tools and resources in a home learning environment that opens up conversations free of stigma, particularly about mental health while encouraging overall wellness. We are excited to be able to provide an extremely useful online resource for not only our youth and teens but also for parents and educators.

Here are just a few of the areas we are including in the online COVID-19 Wellness Toolkit:

  • Daily updated information from reputable sources on COVID-19 and its impact on Canadians;
  • Resources and mental health assessments for youth and teens, so they are able to check in on their mental health;
  • Activity ideas for both youth and teens to help them stay busy when they are unable to see friends in person, or participate in their regular extracurricular activities;
  • A parent resource section with “Stigma-Free Conversation Cards” that provide parents with questions to ask their children to spark conversations about COVID-19 and mental health;
  • The website features a Comic Book called, “Ben’s Story,” which highlights a young person’s approach to the COVID-19 situation;
  • Numerous illustrated animations and a 10 Tips for Mental Health Booklet showcases healthy avenues for youth to care for their mental well-being;
  • Resources that are youth and teen-friendly so they can navigate the site themselves and learn more about COVID-19 and mental health; and
  • Live events that include Q&A’s with a psychologist, workouts with a fitness professional and so much more!

The Stigma-Free Society’s plans to launch our new COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit on April 13, 2020, and we are working hard to create an incredible site that parents, educators, youth and teens can easily navigate and learn from. During these uncertain times, it is important for our youth to feel connected and educated on what is happening in the world around them. We are striving to create a program that provides accurate and important information in a helpful and non-scary way.

It is more important than ever that our youth learn about mental health and wellness, and take steps to help maintain their mental health every day. We hope that our site will provide them with the information they need to stay in a positive state of mental health and also provide resources for them should they find themselves struggling with their new reality.

Stay tuned for more information. We are also open to suggestions, so if you have an idea of what you’d like to see included in the Stigma-Free COVID-19 Youth Wellness Toolkit, please don’t hesitate to contact us with your ideas at [email protected]

~Author, Lindsay Goulet, Community Development Manager

Teens2Twenties Support Group Inspires Resilience

“Knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles makes a huge difference”, writes one of the youth from our Teens2Twenties Support Group—our drop-in program for youth dealing with mental heath challenges. The group runs every Thursday from 7:00 – 8:30pm at the Quadra Village Community Center in Victoria, B.C.

With mental health at the forefront of many awareness campaigns, it is easy to forget that many people still suffer in silence. Even though the conversation has started, many of us with mental health challenges often feel isolated and afraid.

Working with youth who are dealing with so much adversity, yet still showing up and bearing their souls, is so inspiring to me. To come into a room full of strangers and open up about what’s really going on beneath the surface can be so intimidating, especially when social anxiety is part of the equation. Even as the group facilitator, I often find it difficult to be really honest about where I’m at sometimes.

We’re so conditioned to say that things are fine, to avoid being a “downer”, to not take up too much time.  Yet it is exactly in taking that time to open up, and risk being seen, that other people start to feel less alone. Some space can open up to feel a little lighter, to realize that even if things aren’t all good, they are still going to be okay. I love the sense of humor that young people have. Things can be challenging, but there is always something to laugh about. I have learned so much about resilience since working with the youth that attend the Teens2Twenties Support Group.

Something I love about our group is that people are open to trying new things. We’ve gone on sunset hikes, attended poetry slams, and discovered some tremendous artistic talent during art nights. Mental health challenges can make social outings difficult, but they don’t have to be a barrier. Especially when we know we’re not alone in our fears.

When we are not fighting to get by on our own, we have the strength and compassion to lift each other up and keep going.

With appreciation for the Teens2Twenties Support Group participants, I applaud and appreciate you.

~Robyn Thomas, Lead Facilitator, Teens2Twenties Support Group