The government of Ontario announced Monday it will introduce a new compulsory education curriculum for primary and secondary school students aimed at increasing mental health literacy, amid the continued challenges posed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new curriculum will be introduced for the next school year, and will involve updates to the required career studies courses for Grade 10 students, as well as mandatory resources for teachers and students on mental health literacy for Grades 7 and 8.
The program was created because of MPP Conservative Progressive advocacy Natalie Pierre, who filed a motion in December around mental health literacy.
At a news conference Monday, he said his 17-year-old son died by suicide six years ago which prompted him to pursue the initiative.
“My son is like any other student. The day before he died he was on a tour of the university campus,” said Pierre through tears. “The night before, he had gone to the school dance. Anyone who saw him would have seen a normal, healthy teenager. But we know now that’s not the case,” he said.
He said in the months and years that followed, other people reached out to him to share their own experiences with mental illness. Mental health literacy should be taught in schools in the same way as math and science, he said.
“The mission is to create a personal set of skills that young people can leverage in their lives and work and in the classroom,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at a news conference, where he was also flanked by Michael Tibollo, the minister’s associate mental health and addictions.
Lecce said the province would provide $12 million for the plan this year, $14 million in 2024 and $16 million in 2025.
“This is fundamental to creating more useful and practical learning that can help young people become resilient and overcome the obstacles of everyday life,” he said. The focus of the curriculum will revolve around teaching students the importance of mental health for long-term success and reducing stigma, he said.
Students to learn how to manage stress, get help
The new curriculum will include learning materials for Grades 7 and 8 in the form of activities, videos and information to help students learn how to manage stress, determine the relationship between mental health and mental illness, recognize signs and symptoms and how to seek support.
Grade 10 students will begin compulsory learning in the fall of 2024, and that includes identifying signs of distress and how to connect to mental health resources.
The learning modules have been developed with experts at School Mental Health Ontario, an organization that works with the Ontario school district, and the SickKids Hospital, Lecce said.
The group urged the province to take action towards the welfare of students
The province has also announced a $114 million increase in funding for mental health in schools for the 2023-2024 school year, which it says is a 500 percent increase since 2018. However, advocacy groups and teachers’ unions continue to highlight the deteriorating mental health of children across the continent. provinces, and said that funding should keep pace with inflation.
In a statement to CBC News, Stephen Mensah, executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, said the curriculum announcement was “a triumph for students who have been calling for this for a long time,” even though it was only introduced for a few classes. The group has called for a more extensive curriculum update for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12.
Last week, the Youth Cabinet along with several other organizations including the teachers’ union, sent a letter to Lecce urging additional mental health initiatives in schools. The letter outlines the need for mental health days to allow student absences, more support from mental health professionals and checks. He also acknowledged that these concerns were exacerbated by Indigenous and Black students.
The call comes as the impact of the pandemic on young people continues to be felt. Statistics Canada reports that adolescent mental health has declined since the start of COVID-19, with 61 percent of children aged 12 to 17 years in 2022 stating their mental health was “very good or very good”, compared to 73 percent in 2019.
Also, a February report from People for Education, a Toronto-based nonprofit research institute, found that the percentage of schools without access to a psychologist has doubled in the past decade, and geography is a major factor in whether students can access resources. .
Declining youth mental health has also been linked to increased incidents of violence in Ontario schools, with the Ontario Middle School Teachers’ Federation urging the province earlier this year to hire mental support staff in response.
Journalists at Monday’s news conference also asked Lecce about the mental health needs of those in the LGTBQ community, stemming from the recent clashes at a York Catholic Schools Board meeting over whether to fly the Pride flag.
While the minister acknowledged the students were at higher risk for suicide, a problem that is well documented in Canada, and that the youths needed to be asserted in their identity and feel safe, he did not say he would direct schools to raise the flag. .