Supporting Student Mental Health in Ontario
An enhanced elementary Health and Physical Education Curriculum
To provide better support for students in Ontario the government has enhanced the Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1 to 8, with a more comprehensive approach on mental health.
Learning about mental health fits naturally in the elementary health and physical education curriculum, where students are learning all about healthy development. In each grade, it is integrated with learning about overall health in a developmentally appropriate way.
In the 2019-20 school year, learning about mental health in Ontario schools will take place through the newly enhanced health and physical education curriculum, starting in Grade 1. There will continue to be opportunities for students to learn about mental health across the curriculum, as well as in Kindergarten, and as a part of students' everyday experience at school.
Changes and key learning
Changes to the curriculum include:
- new learning expectations that focus on developing social-emotional skills that are applied across the curriculum;
- new learning expectations that focus on building understanding about mental health;
- enhanced opportunities throughout the curriculum to learn about the connections between physical and mental health.
Key learning to building mental health knowledge includes:
- understanding that mental health is a part of overall health;
- understanding the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and actions;
- learning ways to care for our own mental health and to be resilient in the face of challenges;
- recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and of common mental health problems;
- knowing about sources of support, and how and where to ask for help.
The benefits of learning about mental health
Mental health is an essential component of overall health. Given that seventy per cent of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence,* it is important to equip our young people with the knowledge and skills they need to support their mental health throughout their lives.
Learning about mental health from a young age and further developing knowledge and skills in this area throughout their school years will help students to be healthier and more successful in their daily lives and as contributing members of society in the future. It will also help them build awareness about when and how to access mental health supports, when needed.
By embedding mental health in the regular education experience, Ontario schools have an opportunity to contribute to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. When young people learn to care for their mental health routinely, just as they care for their physical health, they are more likely to reach out for help early when they are not feeling emotionally well. Early identification and early intervention for mental health problems leads to better overall outcomes for young people.
Social-Emotional Learning Skills in elementary Health and Physical Education
The development of social-emotional learning skills supports students' overall health and well-being. It also supports positive mental health, as well as their ability to learn, build resilience, and thrive.
Students will learn skills to:
So they can:
identify and manage emotions
express their feelings and understand the feelings of others
recognize sources of stress and cope with challenges
develop personal resilience
maintain positive motivation and perseverance
foster a sense of optimism and hope
build relationships and communicate effectively
support healthy relationships and respect diversity
develop self-awareness and self-confidence
develop a sense of identity and belonging
think critically and creatively
make informed decisions and solve problems
During their education, students will acquire social-emotional learning skills as well as "transferable skills" (for example, self-directed learning, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and innovation) and develop "learning skills and work habits" as they learn to set goals, follow through and overcome challenges along the way.
These interconnected skills help foster overall health and well-being, and the ability to learn, build resilience and thrive. Helping students make connections between these skills is key to enhancing their learning experience in school and throughout their lives.
The role of schools, educators and communities
Educators are well positioned to help students learn about mental health and to identify and support students who may be struggling with their emotions and behaviour. While educators are not mental health professionals and do not diagnose problems in this area, they play an important role in supporting student well-being.
Schools are an excellent place to promote mental health knowledge and skill development and to provide early and ongoing support for students experiencing mental health problems. However, we all have a role to play in supporting the well-being of children and youth across the province. Developing the skills to support mental health can happen across all subjects of the curriculum, during school activities, at home, and in the community. Working in partnership with parents and families, community, cultural, faith, and health organizations, and all levels of government, schools can make a significant contribution as part of a system of mental health support in Ontario.
A relevant curriculum
A curriculum that includes learning about mental health is a critical component of school-based mental health promotion and of a community-wide approach to mental wellness. There is strong evidence that developing social-emotional learning skills at school contributes to student well-being and successful academic performance.
Learning about mental health can also help to reduce the stigma around mental illness. When students understand that many people experience mental health difficulties from time to time, and that there is support available when needed, they are more likely to seek help early when problems arise.
* CAMH, Mental illness and addiction: Facts and statistics, https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics, citing Government of Canada, The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006.
- Parent resources and more information on the elementary Health and Physical Education curriculum can be accessed on the ministry website.