KAWARTHA LAKES-The Ontario government is updating the Grade 10 Career Studies curriculum and is introducing mandatory resources for teachers and students on mental health literacy in Grades 7 and 8.
The move comes due to a motion in the legislature by Natalie Pierre, Member of Provincial Parliament for Burlington, to strengthen mental health learning and supports in the classroom following the death of her 17-year-old son almost six years ago.
“Just like any other student, the day before he died, he took a university campus tour. He worked a few hours at his part-time job and he got together with friends.” Pierre said. “Anyone seeing him would have observed a normal, healthy teenager. But we know now that was not the case.”
She has been advocating for mental health education in the classroom ever since.
Officials say the resources were developed in consultation with experts at Sick Kids Hospital.
Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and MPP Pierre also announced an additional $12 million this year and $14 million next year to provide mental health services over the summer months. This funding will further students’ access to school-based mental health professionals and services year-round, with the aim of providing students consistent and reliable support, responding to a key recommendation of families and student trustees.
“We know that strengthening mandatory mental health literacy in the curriculum is the right thing to do. Natalie Pierre is a strong advocate and MPP, but most of all she is a mother driven to ensure we prevent tragedies and save lives,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “That is why it is so critical that all students learn healthy coping strategies, stress management and better recognition of the early signs. We want children to have the tools and confidence to succeed in the classroom and to always know that they are not alone.”
Announced at the start of National Mental Health Week and proposed for introduction in schools in the next school year, the new mandatory mental health literacy resources will include:
- New learning materials for Grade 7 and 8 students that are aligned with the Health and Physical Education curriculum. This includes important tools like student activities, videos and interactive programming and information that will help students learn how to manage stress, understand the relationship between mental health and mental illness, recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health concern, counteract mental health stigma and know when and how to get help.
- Mandatory learning on mental health literacy for Grade 10 students will start in fall 2024 and will include how to recognize signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help locally when needed. This will be included in the Career Studies course.
“Improving mental health literacy in schools is a critical part of building the resiliency skills that our children and youth need to grow up to be happy and healthy adults,” said Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “There is no health without mental health. By providing schools these resources, we can lower stigma and improve connections to the community sector where students and their families can access Ontario’s continuum of care.”
The Ontario government is also announcing an increase in mental health funding in schools to a historic $114 million in 2023-24.
- $50.4 million to help school boards meet local needs and priorities related to mental health, including professional development, student engagement, wellness promotion and mental health professionals
- $26.5 million to hire permanent mental health workers in secondary schools
- $10.8 million for mental health leaders in school boards who collaborate with community partners to provide integrated student mental health services
- $6.5 million to School Mental Health Ontario to provide clinical expertise, resources and practical tools for educators, and the delivery of professional learning to school-based mental health clinicians
- $3.75 million towards mental health supports for racialized and marginalized students
- $2 million to increase awareness for parents and guardians on student mental health
- $2 million to support emerging student mental health needs, including initiatives that promote healthy behaviours such as the prevention and awareness of substance use and addiction.
This past fall, the government consulted with parent and student groups, educators, community-based child and youth mental health organizations and school-based mental health professionals to discuss ways to further improve student mental health supports.