Toronto’s public schools will be equipped with mental-health teams and all staff will be trained in how to help students facing emotional distress under new initiatives being announced on Tuesday.
The Toronto District School Board’s efforts were prompted by one of the largest school-based surveys it has conducted that showed teenagers are under so much pressure they are losing sleep, in tears and having difficulty concentrating.
TDSB director Donna Quan will unveil a four-year strategy on Tuesday morning at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts that will include five commitments. Among them, all school staff will receive professional development and training on mental health and how to support the students.
All TDSB schools will also have mental-health teams made up of teachers, staff, students and community members, spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz said.
Ms. Quan will announce that by June, half of the board’s high schools will have initiatives such as Stop the Stigma, which involves student-driven activities to bring attention to mental-health issues. The TDSB will also expand its mental-health partnerships and engage parents in its programs, Ms. Quan is expected to announce.
“Mental health and well-being belongs to everyone and is key to student success and that is why I have made this a clear priority at the TDSB,” Ms. Quan said in a statement.
School health classes have always focused on physical education, sexuality and nutrition. And Canadian schools are starting to understand that good psychological health helps students learn, and experts say schools provide an ideal setting to identify children with problems and start treating them.
The TDSB conducts a census of its Grades 7 to 12 students every five years. In 2011-2012, it added questions about mental health and students’ emotional well-being for the first time.
The survey of nearly 103,000 pupils found that three out of four high school students said they were worried about the future. More than a third reported that they were under a lot of stress and also said they were nervous or anxious often or all of the time.
Nearly 30 per cent of high school students, and about 20 per cent of Grades 7 to 8 students said they were losing sleep because of worries. Meanwhile, 11 per cent of high school students and 8 per cent of students in Grades 7 and 8 said they felt like crying because of the stress.
At the time, Canada’s largest school board pledged to use the census data to identify gaps and develop a board-wide mental health strategy. The TDSB also conducted an analysis of all the supports it currently had in its schools. Some schools already incorporate mental health and anti-bullying programs.