Mental Health

Key Message

Canada must increase funding to enhance and improve access to mental health resources, supports and services to assist students, teachers and other education workers.

Why is mental health an issue in K-12 public education?

Mental health issues affect both students and teachers. While access to mental health supports for students is a human rights issue, teacher access to mental health supports and services is a labour rights issue. Students require access to age-appropriate psycho-social supports, while teachers need to effectively manage and recognize mental health issues in student populations, and, at the same time, manage their own well-being.

Only 1 out of 5 students who need mental health services receives them. Many teachers believe stigma and discrimination pose a major barrier to the provision of those needed mental health services. Teachers also recognize that language and cultural barriers in diverse student populations are additional barriers faced by children and youth.[i] Most teachers have not received professional development in the area of student mental health or teacher mental health.

What does research tell us about student and teacher mental health?

  • 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, the “most disabling group of disorders worldwide.”[ii] 
  • Some mental health issues, such as anxiety, ADHD, and conduct disorders, surface as early as 4-5 years of age, making early identification and intervention crucial for student success.[iii] 
  • As they represent the “biggest increase in service use for mood disorders and anxiety disorders,”[iv] children and youth aged 5-14 require a school environment that is adaptable and responsive to special physical, intellectual, psychological, and/or emotional needs of student populations. 
  • Common workplace mental health conditions experienced by teachers such as depression, anxiety, and burnout can be precipitated or aggravated by constant and unreasonable expectations, heavy workloads, threats of violence by students, lack of educational supports, and insufficient mental health services for their students.
References

[i] Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 2012, Understanding Teachers’ Perspectives on Student Mental Health, accessed April 1, 2019, https://publications.ctf-fce.ca/en/product/understanding-teachers-perspectives-on-student-mental-health/

[ii] Canadian Mental Health Association, Fast Facts about Mental Illness, accessed on April 1, 2019, https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness

[iii] Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2017, Strengthening the Case for Investing in Canada’s Mental Health System: Economic Considerations, accessed April 1, 2019, https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2017-03/case_for_investment_eng.pdf

[iv] Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2017, Strengthening the Case for Investing in Canada’s Mental Health System: Economic Considerations, accessed April 1, 2019, https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2017-03/case_for_investment_eng.pdf

[v] Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 2012, Understanding Teachers’ Perspectives on Student Mental Health, https://publications.ctf-fce.ca/en/product/understanding-teachers-perspectives-on-student-mental-health/

[vi] Kristen Ferguson, Yvonne James, and Ivy Bourgeault, 2018, “Teaching Case Study Summary” (unpublished), SSHRC Healthy Professional Worker Study.

[vii] Ibid.

What needs to happen?

  • Teachers require access to professional development opportunities to learn about recognizing unhealthy patterns in students, but also to learn about their rights and obligations as workers in possible toxic workplace environments.
  • Since mental health difficulties can exacerbate issues with student achievement and relationships with teachers and peers in schools,[v] schools need proper funding for professional supports such as school psychologists, counselors, and professional development for teachers to best support students in need. 
  • Recruitment of social workers, school psychologists, and counselors available to both students and staff.[vi]
  • Proper funding is needed for, and access to, mental health supports and services for teachers, education support workers, and students, to address patterns of violence, burnout, and to improve work-life balance.[vii]

What to ask your political party?

  • What does your party plan to do in order to improve knowledge and access to mental health resources, supports, and services to assist students, teachers, and education support workers in publicly funded, K-12 public schools in Canada?  
  • How can your party make mental health a greater priority for all Canadians?
  • How can government work to dispel the myths surrounding mental health?
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