In addition to ensuring that young people have the necessary back to school supplies and fresh new look for their return to the classroom, supporting the mental health of children and youth and including the topic in the curriculum at school should also be a part of the annual preparations advises Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO).
Research shows that 70 per cent of mental health and substance use issues have their onset in childhood or adolescence and if mental health issues are treated early, better health outcomes are the result.
In 2018, CMHO provided recommendations to the Government of Ontario on the need for the inclusion of mental health literacy in any curriculum updates and is pleased that the Ministry of Education will continue to include mental health and well-being learning in its 2019 elementary and high school health curriculums. A curriculum which includes positive and inclusive discussion about mental well-being has the potential to help students build resilience and improve their understanding of mental health and mental illness.
“We know that our educators and the school system are an integral part of supporting the mental well-being of children and youth,” says Kimberly Moran, CEO, CMHO. “Including education about mental health and mental well-being in the classroom is a good early and first step in equipping young students with the knowledge and skills they need to support their mental health throughout their lives.”
Educators are an important partners of Children’s Mental Health Ontario’s child and youth mental health care centres, which are the largest mental health service providers for young people in the province. Teachers are often among the first to recognize a mental or behavioural issue in a child.
Now more than ever, the mental health and well-being of Ontario children and youth should be a priority for educators, healthcare providers and the government. In a 2017 CMHO survey with IPSOS, nearly half of all youth in Ontario (46%) report having missed school as a result of their anxiety, and one quarter of all kids with mental health issues experience substantially lower achievement at school.
In 2017, more than a third (39%) of Ontario students (grades 7-12) indicated a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression) while 17 per cent indicated a serious level of psychological distress. Educators have highlighted similar concerns, with nearly three quarters (73%) of teachers reporting that anxiety disorders are a pressing concern in the classroom, and more than half (59%) reporting depression disorders as a pressing concern.
Additionally, as stigma around mental illness decreases, demand for mental health care for children and youth is increasing. It is essential to continue supporting the mental health and well-being of children and youth within schools and post-secondary institutions and to provide the appropriate connections back to community-based child and youth mental health services when needed.
Parents and caregivers can also support their children who may be facing increased stress levels or anxiety around this time of year as schedules change and they are separated from family or move from home for the first time. CMHO offers resources for parents, teachers and youth as they transition back to school. For more information and tips on how to help reduce the stress of returning to school visit cmho.org.