Friday, 13 July 2012

School Mental Health: Teachers perspectives and what to do

A new study just reported in the Canadian Teachers Federation publication gives us some sobering information about what teachers think about mental health in young people and their ability to address that in the school setting.

As we would expect, teachers overwhelmingly reported that they think addressing mental health needs of students is very important and that poor mental health leads to many negative outcomes, including poor academic achievement.  But, there is much more!

About half the teachers surveyed (there were almost 4000 of them), noted that at least 10% of their students needed mental health services but were not receiving them.  They also identified a number of barriers to access of these needed services.  Here is what over 80% of them said: lack of staff training about mental health/mental illness; lack of school based mental health services; lack of community based mental health care providers.  Seventy percent also identified that stigma was a barrier.
About two-thirds of teachers had not received professional development on mental health, especially those who had been teaching for five years or less!  Ninety-seven percent of teachers wanted training in mental health.  I assume it was training that was relevant to their work.

So, what are we to make of this information?

First, it is not new news.  But it is really good to have it so well quantified, and kudos to the Mental Health Commission of Canada for funding the study.

Second, it is essential that addressing school mental health include training of teachers be widely available.  However we need to make sure that this is not done through one-off PD days or brainless general courses but in best evidence based and contextualized training programs that fit and make sense in the educational setting.  This is where some of our unique and validated work comes in – through the Mental Health Curriculum Guide and its related training programs we can ensure that teachers get the mental health literacy that they need and that this is provided in a sustainable and cost effective manner.  The models of Nova Scotia and the Ontario Shores lead initiative in Ontario are good examples of how to do this well.

Third, we need to ensure that schools are seamlessly linked to health systems that can offer mental health care to young people.  This means building the capacity for identification and interventions in the school itself as well as enhancement of primary care competencies in diagnosis and treatment.  We have the training programs and tools to do this.  In British Columbia, the Practice Support Program of the BCMA is doing excellent work in this regard. 

So, we know what the problem is.  We know what to do about it.  No excuses any more!


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