Mental health is a key element of the well-being of all students and their families. Misunderstandings associated with mental health and mental illness, as well as the stigma associated with them, can have profound and lasting impacts on students who are affected by mental health issues. By discussing and learning about mental health, mental illness, and associated stigmas as well as dispelling the myths associated with these, students will be better enabled to manage their own mental health, seek assistance, and understand the issues affecting the mental health of other people in their livesi.
Mental health affects all components of a student’s development, so it appears throughout the 2015 H&PE curriculum, thus providing a strong foundation for students to develop skills to support mental health. While the most direct learning about mental health is found within the Healthy Living strand, there are additional opportunities for students to learn skills for maintaining mental health and well-being in the other strands of the 2015 H&PE curriculum.
Theory into Practice – Use an Exit Pass to consolidate learning and help students make explicit connections between participation in physical activity and developing positive, supportive relationships and mental health.
Educators can plan instructional strategies that focus on promoting and maintaining mental health while also building an understanding of mental illness and reducing stigma associated with it. Students learn self-awareness skills and techniques that allow them to monitor, manage, and cope with life’s stressors by participating in planned activities that support: the development of resiliency; focus on promoting and maintaining mental health, building an understanding of mental illness, and reducing stigma and stereotypes; learning in a supportive environmentii; developing critical-thinking skills; and effectively communicating with others.
Positive mental health and emotional well-being are closely related to the development of psychological and emotional resilience. Resilience is enhanced by healthy, active living, but also depends on individual characteristics, family circumstances, community factors, and environmental factors. When people are resilient, they can more easily recover from challenges and change: they can function well in response to a major life event and then move forward. By nurturing and supporting students’ strengths and assets, educators help promote positive mental health in the classroom. At the same time, they can identify students who need additional support and connect them with the appropriate services.
Theory into Practice – Consider having students work in small groups to define resiliency and create a T-chart identifying both protective and risk factors.
Behaviours that promote mental health are not always correlated with the prevention of mental illness, as mental illness can also have a biological component. However, learning about mental health and emotional well-being helps students understand and manage risks as well as learn about protective factors that are within their control. As a result, they will be better able to build and maintain positive mental health.
i Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 to 12: Health and Physical Education (revised), page 40. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/health9to12.pdf
ii EduGAINS. (2015). Learning about mental health and well-being [electronic document, file name 6a_Learning_About_Mental_Health_Well_being.doc]. Retrieved from: http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesCurrImpl/Elementary/HealthandPhysED/LearningAboutMentalHealthWellBeing.pdf