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Indigenous student mental health

Indigenous approaches to health and wellness focus on a strengths-based approach that recognizes…a whole and healthy person expressed through a sense of balance of spirit, emotion, mind and body. Central to wellness is belief in one’s connection to language, land, beings of creation, and ancestry, supported by a caring family and environment. (Elder Jim Dumont, 2014)

Brief overview

Indigenous students and their families historically encountered many negative experiences in the education system that have negatively impacted their health and wellness. Indigenous students are likely to be impacted by colonization, residential schools, the child welfare system and discrimination.

These realities have caused intergenerational trauma, and consequences such as loss of culture and language, mental health problems, problematic substance misuse, suicide and violence. 

Indigenous student mental health acknowledges these circumstances, and uses connections to culture, land, and language to build and strengthen purpose, hope, belonging, and meaning (First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework, 2015).

The role of the school mental health professional

Often school staff, including school mental health professionals, feel overwhelmed by the myriad of negative circumstances and experiences of Indigenous students, and feel unsure about how best to support academic achievement and well-being at school. By building our individual and collective knowledge of Indigenous approaches to mental health well-being, we can provide support that honours the student’s culture and traditions.

Taking a learning stance, and holding openness for Indigenous ways of knowing, the school mental health professional can help students to recognize and build on their strengths in meaningful ways. They can also help educators to work alongside community to highlight wellness approaches in the classroom that emphasize locally-relevant culture, language, and belonging.

For more information

Special interest group materials

The following web consultations were led by Dr. Brenda Restoule, First Peoples Wellness Circle. Several special guests also joined many of these informative and interactive learning sessions. For access to any of these webinars, as someone serving Indigenous student mental health, please contact us.

Presented by Dr. Brenda Restoule, March 2016

Build your understanding of the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework. The webinar covers:

  • The importance of culture
  • Hope, meaning, purpose and belonging are at the centre of wellness
  • The strength-based approach and a community-focused approach

Dr. Restoule discusses the concepts of Culture as Intervention and Practice-based Evidence.  A  comprehensive Implementation Action Plan is also included.

Duration: 30 minutes

Format: Webinar

Reflection question

  • How might you use the Framework in the selection and implementation of initiatives in schools?

Additional resources

Thunderbird Partnership Foundation

Buffalo Riders Training Program

Presented by Dr. Brenda Restoule, April 2016

Learn how to build and sustain meaningful collaboration between schools/school boards and Indigenous partners. The webinar builds on the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework session. It covers:

  • A review of concepts of mental wellness from the Indigenous perspective
  • Key considerations for authentic engagement
  • Practical ideas for collaboration on local, provincial and federal levels

Dr. Restoule calls on those looking to collaborate with Indigenous partners to practice cultural humility and offers key reflection questions to ensure efforts to collaborate are aligned with cultural beliefs, practices and interests.

Duration: 40 minutes

Format: Webinar

Reflection questions

  • How important is relationship-building to you? In your experience, which approaches and strategies have been most effective when building relationships with community partners?
  • Where would you assess your current awareness/knowledge of local Indigenous communities served by your school/school board?
  • When you think about your current knowledge base about Indigenous communities, where has this information come from? What other avenues or sources of information may help to deepen your awareness/understanding?
  • How might viewing practice-based evidence as relevant and meaningful, be significant in advancing partnerships with Indigenous communities?
  • What are some opportunities for collaboration/partnership with Indigenous communities within your local context?

Presented by Thunderbird Partnership Foundation

Format: webinar

Presented by Dr. Ed Connors, June 2017

Learn about the Feather Carriers: Leadership for Life program. The paradigm shift we are asked to consider is to change our language and focus on suicide prevention to the language and focus of life promotion. Dr. Connors presents research that indicates that ASIST training with Indigenous youth may increase thoughts of suicide. The training draws on Indigenous concepts of leadership for the protection of community health and well-being.

Duration: 30 minutes

Format: Webinar

Reflection questions

  • What is suicide prevention? Gatekeeping? Intervention? and Postvention?
  • How does life promotion differ from suicide prevention?

Additional resources

Feather Carriers

Presented by partners from Wiikwemkoong Health Centre and Laurentian University

The Aboriginal Children’s Health and Well-being Measure (ACHWM) is a bilingual health and well-being assessment grounded in the Medicine Wheel, designed with and for Indigenous children aged 8-18 years. It can be used for mental health screening, population health assessment and/or program evaluation.

It includes 62 questions about mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health, as well as a triage component to connect children at potential risk to local services. The webinar covers:

  • Current application of the ACHWM
  • Concrete implementation considerations
  • Next steps and support available for organizations, groups or schools/boards interested in using the ACHWM to advance the health and well-being of Indigenous children and youth

Duration: 1 hour

Format: Webinar

Reflection questions

  • In your experience, what benefits do measures such as the ACHWM offer? How have you used similar tools in your practice?
  • Why might the development of tools such as the ACHWM be important and necessary?
  • In what ways did the development of the ACHWM demonstrate a commitment to youth engagement?
  • Do you see any potential opportunities to apply the ACHWM or a similar tool within your local context?

Additional resources

Presented by Dr. Brenda Restoule, January 2017

Indigenous people are at higher risk of developmental trauma, and are more likely to experience complex and intergenerational trauma. Dr. Restoule will help you build your understanding of trauma and trauma-informed care from an Indigenous perspective.

The webinar covers:

  • different forms of trauma and their impact: single event, enduring or repeating event, cumulative effect, historical events, and personal event that impacts over several generations
  • the connection between physical reality and spiritual influence
  • an approach to healing and wellness that emphasizes the integration of spirit and physical realities

Duration: 56 minutes

Format: Webinar

Duration: 1 hour

Format: Webinar

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

Format: Webinar

Have a question about this topic?

Contact us. We can review relevant research to help to answer your question. In cases where several requests focus on the same theme, we can arrange for a more comprehensive review which will be shared on the School Mental Health Ontario site.