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A Year in Review

June 2024  

The 2023-2024 school year brought much to be grateful for! Working together across and within school boards and communities, and alongside policy and research partners, Mental Health Leadership Teams brought their action plans to life in meaningful ways for the students they serve. School Mental Health Ontario (SMH-ON) has offered a range of resources and supports to help with this important work. It has been a joy to watch the unique and impactful ways that the provincial school mental health and addictions strategy has unfolded across Ontario.

Here are a few highlights from the 2023-2024 school year, in support of student mental health:

We welcomed this past school year with a landmark announcement from the Ministry of Education on the release of Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM 169) related to student mental health. PPM 169 is a comprehensive policy that underscores the Ministry’s recognition of mental health as a critical component of overall student success and well-being, paving the way for a brighter, healthier future for students across the province.  School boards across Ontario have been working on many of the elements of PPM 169 for many years.  SMH-ON Implementation Coaches have been pleased to support boards to align and weave these expectations more explicitly within their current and upcoming action plans. 

At the same time, SMH-ON has been preparing a number of resources to assist boards in meeting PPM 169 requirements by providing consistent, evidence-informed, ready-made tools and professional learning offerings to support their work.   

Throughout the fall, the SMH-ON team was focused on ensuring the successful development, release and implementation of the first-ever mandatory mental health literacy modules for students in grades 7 and 8. These Ministry of Education modules are part of the Health and Physical Education curriculum and were developed to help equip students with culturally responsive, evidence-informed knowledge, skills and strategies to support their mental health and well-being.  

Not only is student mental health literacy a key element of PPM 169, but so is building role-specific mental health knowledge and skills amongst school staff. To this end, this winter, we released an update to the seminal resource Leading Mentally Healthy Schools, a guide for school administrators that identifies the core components of developing, operating, and sustaining mentally healthy schools in Ontario.  A mental health literacy course for system leaders was also developed and piloted in 12 school boards and will soon be available for wide release across the province.  

As part of efforts to enhance the multi-tiered system of supports, with particular focus on tier one universal programming, the school year also began with the launch of Wayfinder. We know that educators are busy, and it can be challenging to know what, when and how to offer mental health supports in the classroom. Wayfinder provides a clear framework for educators, including: 

Similarly, a range of offerings in support of evidence-informed brief interventions were provided for school mental health professionals. 844 clinicians were trained in protocols like BRISC, STRONG, and Brief Coping Kits (formerly Brief Digital Interventions) over the course of the 2023-2024 school year.  116 participants took part in pilots related to identity-affirming approaches to brief interventions, like the Healthy Relationships Program for  2S/LGBTQIA+ Youth, CBT-IA, and ACT.  Ongoing professional learning related to supporting racialized students, building capacity to serve Indigenous students, advancing skills for suicide risk assessment and management, and for group facilitation continued in 2023-2024.  

Collaboration on bringing the Right Time, Right Care vision to life made great strides this past year. Strong partnerships with the Knowledge Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, the Lead Agency Consortium, and Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario resulted in the release of the Right time, right care implementation toolkit this spring. 

As always, students are at the centre of our provincial strategy. In early spring, the Parent/Caregiver and Student Engagement Team launched the Student Engagement Toolkit, sharing practices and guidance for creating environments that support student engagement in promoting mental health and wellness. Work began on a project to support parent/caregiver mental health literacy, another element of PPM 169. Coming soon, Ontario students will have an opportunity to get involved with #HearNowOn 2024, and their voices will help to shape the next 3-year provincial school mental health and addictions strategy. 

We rounded out this school year, coming full circle with how it began. With the release of the recently completed mandatory Mental Health Literacy Modules for Career Studies (GLC2O). These modules, designed for grade ten students focus on Strategies for Managing Stress and Navigating Balance, and Knowing When Where and How to Seek Support. They were informed by extensive consultation with educators, mental health professionals, parents/caregivers, students, and cultural and community organizations, and developed to align, build consistency and enhance mental health learning within schools.  

As we reflect on the past school year, and how Mental Health Leadership Teams have creatively used and shared materials in alignment with PPM 169 to best enhance student mental health, we are also reminded of how our shared foundations, grounded in implementation science, continue to be the cornerstone of this work. These seven foundations are essential for resources, services and programs to reach every student, and to guide the SMH-ON team in understanding where we go next – where we need to focus energy and resources so that identity-affirming, evidence-informed mental health practices can thrive.  

As we look ahead to the 2024-2025 school year, our aim is to continue to build on these foundations, and the leadership and creativity of board Mental Health Leadership Teams guide us to remain steadfast in our commitment to student mental health, deepening support in our six priority areas. These focus areas map onto the elements highlighted in PPM 169, and further enhance the consistency, quality, scalability and sustainability of programming across the multi-tiered system of support in Ontario schools. 

Learn more about the 2024-25 School Mental Health Action Plan and join us in considering our next steps as we plan for the 2025-2028 provincial School Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. Look for your opportunity to have input, beginning in winter 2024!  Until then, we invite you to share with us in a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for all of the collective work in support of student mental health over the past year.