How mental health should be taught in Canadian schools

By Carmen Chai

Measuring success for Stacey De Souza’s students isn’t as conventional as getting an A on a test, making the basketball team or graduating from high school.

Major wins for her students include leaving the house to take public transit to school or finishing a semester — or even a week or two — of classes.

“Many of the clients we see have a concurrent disorder. Depression and anxiety are the top tier for a lot of the clients coming in. They’re identifying depressive symptoms, they’re feeling sad or lonely. It’s challenging to get to high school because of these symptoms,” De Souza told Global News. She’s a social worker at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

CAMH runs two academic day programs partnered with the Toronto District School Board, including the REACH program De Souza helps with. There, about 16 students complete high school courses while getting daily help with their mental illnesses. Three out of the four periods focus on traditional studies that garner credits, such as math and English.

A fourth period focuses solely on mental health through individual cognitive therapy or group work. Psychiatrists, social workers and counsellors are onsite throughout the day, too. It’s a novel, unconventional way to address mental illness in the classroom.

But promoting positive mental well-being and teaching mental health literacy to Canadian youth aren’t easy feats, experts say.

Canadian educators pioneering mental health education

Mental health literacy is the new frontier educators are trying to make inroads on.

“This is a social contract that’s changed. Schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic and parents would handle the children. Now the onus is on schools but the resources and structures of schools haven’t changed and they’re struggling.”



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