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We don’t provide mental health advice, counselling, or treatment. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact your local community crisis team. You can also reach out to the Indigenous Hope for Wellness Help Line 1-855-242-3310, the Black Youth Helpline 1-833-294-8650, or Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868.

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Support student mental health: How to get started

You’d never turn a student away who was in need, but do you know what to say when they come to you about a mental health challenge? Are you comfortable incorporating daily mental health practices in your classroom? Do you find ways to integrate mental health learning into any lesson, any time, without needing to set special time aside?

Let’s face it—there’s a lot on educators’ plates, especially these days. And the concern about student mental health is real. The pandemic and increasing racial justice work has brought mental health back to the forefront. And the intrinsic relationship between equity and mental health is now more commonly recognized. And so how do we harness the opportunity of this challenging time we’re in to build towards a better future for everyone? Well—we each have a role, that’s for sure. So, if you’re new to student mental health support, or feel like there’s more you could be doing, here are five steps to help you on your journey. Start where you are.

5 steps to build a more mentally healthy classroom and school

Step 1: Build your foundational knowledge about mental health and effective support strategies

You don’t need to be a mental health professional to understand mental health. In addition, acknowledging your own mental health needs can help you learn to recognize how you can support others too.

Here are some resources to help you learn more about mental health in general and student mental health in Ontario:

  • About student mental health – this page provides an overview of mental health and the approach to supporting student mental health through Ontario schools
  • Supporting Minds Strategies at a Glance – this is a quick reference guide with basic information about common mental health issues and suggestions for differentiated instructional strategies and accommodations
  • MH LIT: Mental Health in Action – a free online course for Ontario educators that will help you build basic knowledge, plus introduce you to some helpful resources

Step 2: Begin incorporating easy, everyday practices into class routines

Take the guesswork out of mental health promotion and literacy planning for your classroom with Wayfinder

Download a sequenced guide to teach about mental health.
Kindergarten through Grade 12 available now.

The best way to get more comfortable teaching about supporting mental health is to just start! Thankfully there are many easy-to-use resources that can be implemented regardless of the depth of your knowledge about mental health science, including:

  • Everyday mental health resource websites – four sites developed with ETFO, OECTA (secondary and elementary) and OSSTF, each offering 50+ everyday mental health practices that can be easily incorporated into class routines
  • School Mental Health Read Aloud – Read aloud videos of seven children’s books that support mental health and social and emotional skill development
  • Grab and Go Tools – Simple learning activities to use everyday at home and in the classroom
  • Class Conversation Starters – Quick activities for intermediate and secondary to start meaningful class discussion about mental health related topics

Don’t shy away from sharing with students that you’re on your learning journey. When you model acceptance of where you’re at and your growth mindset, you’re teaching mental health support skills as well.

Step 3: Prepare yourself to respond effectively when a student needs support

If it hasn’t happened already, there will come a time when a student comes to you directly to share that they’re struggling. Or you may notice a student in class whose behaviour or mood has changed.

Here are some resources to help you be prepared when the opportunity to support a student seeking help arises:

  • ONE-CALL – A step-by-step approach for classroom teachers who are concerned about a student. It includes common signs of a mental health problem and steps to follow. 
  • 6Rs Guidance Teacher Resource – an approach guidance teachers can follow when students seek help for a problem with their mental health.

Step 4: Become an active ally for students, families, colleagues, and community members

No conversation about mental health and wellness is complete without also understanding equity. And when we take action to address systemic racism and oppression within the school system and beyond, we will have an impact on mental health of communities too.  

Recognize that equity training you’re involved with at work is part of the journey. Ideally, it ignites your curiosity and drive to learn more and act. We will not create an equitable society where everyone can reach their potential without more active allies. Check out these resources to help you with your allyship journey:

Step 5: Share your learning experience and mentor others

You definitely don’t need to leave this until step five! As you learn more about mental health and have more experiences supporting youth and being an active ally, it’s great if you can share your learning with others. Part of that learning could be acknowledging your mistakes and resulting growth—let your humility show (our world could use more of it)!

As you build more confidence in this area, you could become a significant resource in your school or board and beyond. Your impact on student mental health, well-being and achievement will grow exponentially. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you find a resource particularly helpful, share it with your colleagues and let them know what you liked about it
  • Set up a regularly scheduled opportunity to discuss student mental health and equity topics as a school staff, offer to facilitate the conversation
  • Look for opportunities to provide workshops and guidance beyond your school
  • Follow and connect with other mental health and equity advocates and allies on social media
  • Consider writing for your board’s internal newsletter or a union/association publication

Find more resources to support your work

The resources we shared above are a sample of what’s available from School Mental Health Ontario to support you in your role. You can browse the entire database of resources to find more materials, including social media graphics and tip sheets for parents and caregivers. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter so you hear first about new materials as they become available.