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How to support student mental health during COVID-19 and the return to school

Students may experience a range of emotions during the COVID-19 situation. As well, changes in routine, including time away from school, may create challenges for some students. We also understand that young people with pre-existing mental health problems may find their symptoms increasing in light of the current uncertainties.

We’ve compiled tips and resources to help answer questions you may have about how to support students during this time.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room of your local hospital.  Even in these unusual times, it is important to get the immediate help that you need.  There are people ready and available to help.

Note: If you visit an emergency room, you should be prepared to participate in “active screening” for COVID-19 as part of a standard protocol at this time.  You may also be asked to wear a mask.  This is all normal procedure at this time and does not mean that you or your child is more vulnerable to the virus.  You just may want to be prepared that the emergency room experience may look somewhat different at the moment.  Try to stay calm knowing that this is just standard practice and an example of how caring professionals are providing support.

If you are not sure if it is an emergency, or just need to talk through the situation, consider reaching out to Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000, or the distress line or mobile crisis team in your area.

Watch: “Experts” share tips on return to school

We sought insight and advice from some real experts on the return to school. They let us know they see you; they hear you, and you make a difference in their lives.

Youth-focused mental health resources hub

We’ve partnered with and Kids Help Phone to create an online hub of COVID-19 youth-focused mental health resources to help youth take care of themselves and each other. Please share widely with the young people in your life. 

Questions and answers

The majority of students will have a normal stress response to a return to school. Many will not experience concerns with their mental health. However, some students will experience higher levels of stress and heightened levels of worry. Others may be experiencing significant mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and substance misuse.

Since the start of COVID-19 we have all experienced changes and losses. Because these changes have been large scale they are referred to as “collective losses” – things like a loss of routine, regular supports, etc. During COVID-19 people have also experienced grief and loss due to ill health, and death and bereavement of friends and loved ones.
The School Mental Health Ontario grief and loss resource provides practical strategies.

To learn more about grief, bereavement and how to support a student with loss, see Loss, Grief and Bereavement During COVID-19 Pandemic.


You can learn more about various student mental health topics and how to create and sustain a mentally healthy classroom on our website.

We offer a detailed tutorial on anxiety in the classroom. This tutorial may be helpful because it’s normal and expected that students and others may experience more anxious feelings during this time.

NEW! Our online course MH LIT – Mental Health in Action is designed to provide elementary educators with basic knowledge and information related to mental health, strategies to enhance student mental health, and everyday practices for use in the classroom.

Your efforts to create a mentally healthy classroom will help to ease the transition back to school for all students. Some students may need additional support to help them return to school routines, process the situation and work through their experiences.

The following resources can help you provide support for student mental health in your classroom and school.

The First 10 Days (and Beyond)

Student social media visuals for anxiety management and mental health literacy

Loss, grief and bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic: how to support students

Tips for educators to help students manage stress during uncertain times

Info Sheet: Supporting Student Mental Health During a Pandemic (COVID-19)

No Problem Too Big or Too Small: student help-seeking resource

ONE-CALL Desk Reference
The ONE-CALL process provides educators with a step-by-step approach to supporting students when they exhibit signs of problem with their mental health.

6Rs Guidance Teacher Resource
The 6Rs Guidance Teacher Resource outlines an approach that can be used by guidance ​teachers in supporting students who are seeking help for a problem with their mental health.

Your school board’s mental health leader can also suggest specific resources that may be helpful to you. Find your mental health leader here.

Some students will have personally felt the impact of systemic racism, and the focus on anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism and anti-Indigenous racism . It is normal that they would want to share those feelings on return. These experiences need to be heard and validated. Many boards are developing resources to support you with knowledge and language that you might find helpful in having a conversation. There may also be links to agencies in the community. Talk to your board equity lead for more help to support equity and inclusion.

See also: Supporting Mentally Healthy Conversations About Anti-Black Racism With Students

You might also be interested in:

Additional resources

National Association of School Psychologists
Parent tips, resources for schools and school mental health professionals

The Hope for Wellness Help Line
Mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada

Ministry of Education – Learn at home
Find supplementary resources for elementary and secondary students to practice math and literacy skills and learn at home

Youth-focused mental health resources hub
An online hub of COVID-19 youth-focused mental health resources from, Kids Help Phone and School Mental Health Ontario

Children’s Mental Health Ontario tips on talking to anxious children about COVID-19

The First Peoples Wellness Circle has put together a resource with tips for First Nations parents and families on supporting mental wellness of children and young people in their communities.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Risk level for Canadians, current situation, travel advisories

Indigenous Services Canada
Information for Indigenous communities related to COVID-19 and available supports

Métis Nation of Ontario 
COVID-19 updates, information about culturally relevant mental health and addictions support

Government of Ontario
Ontario news, status of cases in Ontario – updated at 10:30 a.m. daily

World Health Organization
Technical documents, questions and answers