The number of schools in Ontario with no access to psychologists has doubled over the past decade, according to a new survey that paints a worrying picture of the limited supports for students amid growing mental-health challenges.
In the report released Monday, the advocacy group, People for Education, found that 28 per cent of elementary and secondary schools had no access to a psychologist, whether it was virtually or in-person, this school year. This is nearly double the percentage of schools with no access in 2011.
Educators, parents and mental-health advocates have been concerned about the wellness of students after more than two years of pandemic-related disruptions, which saw schooling shift between remote and in-person learning.
Annie Kidder, the group’s executive director, said school principals are “definitely sounding the alarm” as they contend with more behavioural issues and unaddressed mental-health challenges.
“They’re worried that people don’t understand the impact the pandemic has had on students and on their staff, and some of that impact is continuing to really be apparent in kids’ behaviour and their struggle with their mental health,” Ms. Kidder said.
The report is part of an annual survey by People for Education of principals and is based on responses from more than 1,000 schools across all 72 publicly funded boards in the province.
The survey found that more than 90 per cent of schools reported needing more support for students’ mental health and well-being. Principals in only 9 per cent of schools said they had regular access to a mental-health specialist or nurse, while close to half said their schools had no access at all.
The report’s findings are similar to other studies on mental health and young people.
Recent data from Statistics Canada found that fewer young people between the ages of 12 and 17 were describing their mental health as very good or excellent compared with prepandemic levels. In 2019, 73 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds described their mental health as such; that number declined to 61 per cent in the period between September, 2021, and February, 2022.
A report in December from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that among young Canadians who accessed mental-health services six months prior, more than half said that they were not easy to access.
Grace Lee, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an e-mail Friday the government had invested more in mental-health supports for students.
But Ms. Kidder believes it’s not only about money, but also about having qualified staff in school buildings. She said that governments should consider a task force that brings together leaders in education and health to assess which programs and resources are working, and implement them in schools to support students.