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Accessible Mental Health Education

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for accessible mental health education.

Accessible Mental Health Education

Just as all students should benefit from accessible physical education, they should also learn about maintaining their mental health. Therefore, the Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education’s strategy to promote students’ well-being includes accessible mental health education. For instance, students of all abilities should learn about ways to enhance their social and emotional well-being, including:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Empathy
  • Self-regulation
  • Conflict resolution

The Ministry of Education should work with school boards and other partners to develop and review resources that teach these skills in accessible ways. In addition, the curriculum should address how mental health is connected to physical health.

Furthermore, educators, including school and school board leaders, should have resources and training to assess and support students’ mental health. This support should reach all students, including students with disabilities, during times of transition, such as advancing to high school, college, or university.

In addition, the Committee recommends implementing guidelines from the School Mental Health Ontario initiative. For instance, like recommended improvements to physical education programs, students’ social and emotional learning in class should be evidence-based. Similarly, the Committee recommends implementing guidelines from the Ontario Advisory Panel Report. This report advises that school staff should know how to support the mental health of students with autism. Likewise, staff should have training to respond to the mental health or addiction needs of students with many mental health challenges. Staff in various roles should have knowledge and confidence when addressing these needs.

Partnerships to Promote Mental Health in School

Moreover, students could also access support at school through partnerships between school boards, community programs, and other government departments. For example, students, families, and others in the community should create and share resources to promote mental health literacy.  Similarly, school boards should partner with external services, such as mental health professionals, to support students’ serious mental health or addiction needs. Likewise, school boards and government ministries should work together to ensure that students receive services from community agencies. Students’ individual education plans (IEPs) could become the basis for supports they receive outside of school. In this way, the services they access can become more consistent. Another way to ensure consistency is joint training for educators and community-based mental-health professionals who provide prevention and intervention supports. Educators and community-based professionals can then plan to provide similar supports.

Finally, the Ontario government should choose one ministry or member of the Cabinet Office to have primary responsibility for coordinating with other government ministries about programs for children and youth. All these ministries should work together to ensure funding supporting youth mental health. This group should also ensure that when programs or services change, these changes will better support children’s social and emotional well-being.

All these recommendations can help staff create school environments that promote mental health awareness, as well as consistent, high-quality support for students with mental health disabilities.