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Gratitude in times of change and challenge: reflecting on 2022

2022 ecard
Wishing you a winter break that is affirming, supportive, meaningful and just right for you.

These weeks leading up to the winter break can be stressful for many of us. And yet, as we reflect on 2022, we’re feeling grateful. That’s because despite the challenges, or more likely because of them, there’s the continued coming together of colleagues, community, friends and family to support one another and to work towards a just and sustainable future.

Gratitude is good for us. It’s a simple mental health practice with many positive benefits. It can make us more likely to help others and reduce feelings of sadness. And sharing our gratitude benefits the receiver too.

And so, from that spirit, we’re highlighting some of what we’re grateful for when it comes to school mental health in Ontario.

Four school mental health reasons we’re feeling hope going into 2023

Mental health matters

The pandemic and the critical focus on racial justice helped to bring mental health into day-to-day conversations in schools and beyond. As school teams, boards and provincially, we’re working to harness the opportunity of the challenging time we’re living through to build towards a better future for everyone. This means looking after ourselves, just as we work to look after every student and each other.

Many educators are using School Mental Health Ontario resources. School teams are working together to craft school plans that incorporate every student’s strengths, needs and natural supports.

We’re seeing no slowing down in this area—we expect mental health to remain at the forefront as we work to support every student and each other. We’re thankful for all the school staff working together with parents/caregivers and community to support student mental health.

Students are speaking out about what they need and want

This fall, we released the results of the latest #HearNowON consultations with secondary school students. The input from students will guide our directions in school mental health—and is already incorporated into the three-year strategy and the examples we’re sharing here. Five recommendations resulted from the consultation:

Recommendation 1: Students want their teachers, and their parents/caregivers and families to learn more about mental health.

Recommendation 2: Students want to learn about mental health at school and prefer that this learning be frequent, early, and varied.

Recommendation 3: Students want greater access to tools and resources to support their mental health, cope with stress and navigate peer support safely.

Recommendation 4: Students want strong equity-based and culturally responsive mental health resources and support. 

Recommendation 5: Students want leadership opportunities to be more accessible to every student and to create space for different leadership styles.

Go to the full report and bookmark it to read in the new year if you haven’t already reviewed it.

Organizations and individuals are working together to provide support

The network of organizations in Ontario providing mental health services and supports is extensive. Among them are organizations providing specific identity-affirming services and spaces.

Over the last year, we were part of the release of a new collaborative resource: Right time, right care: Strengthening Ontario’s mental health and addictions system of care for children and young people. This resource document offers a collective vision for how Ontario schools and community-based child and youth mental health organizations can collaborate to provide a coordinated, responsive system of care.

As a school-based example, various Ontario school boards are partnering with Indigenous communities and native friendship centres to create intentional spaces for identity-affirming and culturally responsive programming for Indigenous students. These spaces can also foster opportunities for non-Indigenous students to learn about Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Related are the many affinity groups and programs within schools designed to provide identity-affirming, safe spaces where students feel they belong, and where allies can gather .

We expect to see more of these types of partnerships and groups develop in Ontario as we keep the focus on every student.

A shift in the language (and thinking) from all students to every student

Words are powerful. When preparing the new three-year strategy for school mental health in Ontario, we heard loud and clear that [AL1] [DR2] [DR3] we needed to make sure we focused on every student.

Students aren’t a homogenous group. While some universal strategies work well for most students, a one-size-fits-all approach to school mental health isn’t effective or practical. And so, our language has shifted from all students to every student. It’s a seemingly small change that packs significant meaning. To bring this idea to life, differentiated and identity-affirming supports must wrap around every student. This shift reflects the intersection of mental health, reconciliation, equity, and achievement.

As this year draws to a close, we’ve launched new resources to support this work, including:

Try it for yourself—the next time you would typically use all students, try replacing it with every student and feel the shift in meaning.

Expressing gratitude in times of challenge doesn’t mean we ignore the challenges, but rather, we intentionally reflect on what’s good. In our case, the things we are grateful for in school mental health directly respond to some of the challenges we face together.

As we go into the winter break, we are holding every student in our hearts and minds—and also thinking of everyone who is part of the circle of support for Ontario students: parents and caregivers, school and board staff, school mental health professionals, community partners, faith leaders, Elders—all of us.

It’s typical this time of year to share self-care tips—if you need some, check out this post on our student blog. They’re tips inspired by students for students—as we’re seeing, students have a lot to say about mental health, and so, as we go into 2023, let’s keep listening. Our best wishes for a winter break that’s just right for you.