Why the Elements of Positive Mental Health Should be Taught in Every Classroom

I believe mental health affects every aspect of a young person’s life, including their self-talk, relationships and sense of well-being. Without the ability to self regulate, deal with day-to-day stressors and manage emotions, they will struggle when faced with challenging circumstances and overwhelming emotions.
Stress, worry and overwhelming emotions are a reality for many young people. Some have a lot to deal with, not only in their school community, but also in their outside environment – things like divorce, parents arguing, poverty, death, abuse and mental health issues. Some of the findings from a survey conducted in Ontario on the Mental Health and Well-Being of students found:

  • One-in-five (20%) Ontario students report living with a single parent or no parent (birth, adoptive, or step).
  • One-in-six (17%) students rate their mental health as fair or poor.
  • One-in-eight (12%) students had serious thoughts about suicide in the past year (an estimated 113,500 students), and 3% (an estimated 27,000 students) report a suicide attempt in the past year.
  • Over one-quarter (29%) of students report experiencing an elevated level of stress or pressure in their lives (representing about 283,500 students).

Whatever painful emotions come up from challenging circumstances, young people take to school. These emotions do not disappear when they walk through the doors of their school. Not only have they brought everything from their outside world, they are now intermingling them with the emotions and challenges they may face at school.

Teaching academic subjects is a difficult task especially when students are dealing with emotional issues that can create barriers to concentrating and learning. It is becoming more and more apparent that teaching mental health as a compulsory part of the school curriculum is essential if we wish to have well rounded students who are not afraid to reach out for support. Educating and supporting teachers on the topic of mental health is also a must, along with providing them with resources to help their students learn how to manage emotions, bounce back from those emotions and develop healthy mental well-being habits.

Having more mental health in the school curriculum can also help foster dialogue between students, teachers and their parents. In my work, I’ve visited hundreds of schools speaking to students, teachers and parent groups. Some students have communicated that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their parents and/or teachers, while some parents and teachers speak of not knowing what their young people are thinking and feeling. I believe if there was a safe place to open up, share and listen this communication barrier would be positively impacted.

Recently I asked a group of grade 7 students, who had previously participated in community circles, if the circles had helped. The feedback I received was all positive.

One young lady said that she felt she couldn’t talk to her Mom, but in her classroom’s community circles, she felt like she could share and felt supported. Now that she is in grade 7, her teacher chooses not to do community circles and she shared that she really misses the emotional release and connection she had with other classmates. Another student agreed with her. He said that by getting things off his chest he can better concentrate in class.

Community circles are one example of a simple yet effective way to show how a mental health curriculum can coexist in the classroom along with academic subjects:

https://vimeo.com/27828280

Schools are the frontline, where young people have the opportunity to learn the elements of positive mental health. With a curriculum that includes tools, activities and resources on dealing with tough emotions and challenging circumstances, schools can better arm the next generation with what they will need to become resilient, confident, well rounded adults and citizens.

#MentalHealthMatters I’d love to hear your views on teaching mental health in the classroom.

Until next time…



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