Taking Action in Youth Mental Health in Education #CHWW2014

by Kashfia Alam, Policy Analyst, AOHC

On the evening of October 7th, Sheryl Boswell, a teacher from Toronto District School Board hosted the “Taking Action in Youth Mental Health in Education” event. Despite the rain, many gathered at Lula Lounge for this important fundraising initiative. After taking a look at the wonderful collection of items for the silent auction, everyone settled down at the lounge for a night of Latin and Latin-flamenco music. Talented, local musicians and their bands took the stage, including, Yoser Rodriguez (a former student of Sheryl), and Joanna Moon. There was also a video presentation and plenty of networking opportunities for individuals working in the area of children and youth mental health.      

Sheryl is a founding member of the Youth Mental Health (YMHE) Action group which includes educators, parents, suicide survivors, and people with lived experience of mental health and youth mental health. The mission of the YMHE group is to ensure that “public education has the funding and supports to make accessible education a reality”. The group meets regularly to plan public campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of youth mental health issues in the educational system and provides a supportive network  for families struggling with their children's mental health issues. Sheryl’s son suffers from anxiety disorder and depression, and as a mother and educator, she has personally experienced the many barriers that families of children with mental health issues face in our education system.

I learned last night that approximately fifteen to twenty-one percent of children and youth in Ontario have at least one mental health disorder, which is about five students in every classroom of thirty. The second leading cause of death for young people is suicide. Although schools have to deal with this reality, they are mostly under-equipped and do not have the necessary support to handle such complex issues as mental health in education.

It is interesting to note that in 2011, the McGuinty government released “Open Minds, Healthy Minds”, a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy for Ontario, and the first three years of this Strategy focused on children and youth mental health. Under this new initiative to tackle mental health issues, 600 mental health workers were hired across the province to help children, young people and their families get quicker and easier access to the right mental health services and supports in schools, communities and courts. The Strategy also focused on preventing youth suicide by supporting early intervention and peer-to-peer support. The new Wynne’s government have committed to implementing the next phase of the Strategy which will focus on improved transition between youth and adult services, serving people with addictions, and broader determinants of health, such as, housing and employment supports.

Despite the existence of this provincial strategy to tackle mental health, it is important to recognize that at the ground level, more work needs to be done to understand the needs of children and youth suffering from mental health issues, and forming inclusive, compassionate and flexible support systems in our schools and communities.

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