Key Terms and Notes

A variety of key terms are used when promoting mental health and working in the school environment. Here are a few definitions that you should be familiar with as you get started.

Administration: The principal and vice principal of a school.

Appreciation/Recognition: Showing gratitude (e.g., writing a letter or card, or giving acknowledgement during a meeting or event) to those involved in Healthy Schools in a school community. Appreciation is included in Step 4 of Ophea’s 4-Step Healthy Schools Process.

Community partner: Any member of the school community who can contribute to the development of a healthy school (e.g., recreation and sport groups, municipalities, local businesses). These partners may vary depending of the specific school community. While public health can be a key community partner, for the purposes of Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification the term “Community Partner” refers to any community partner apart from public health. “Public Health” is listed as a separate group because of their often vital role in the Healthy Schools approach.

Healthy Schools (Approach): A collaborative approach whereby members of the school community come together to share ideas, plan, and take action on priority health topic(s) while following a repeatable, step-by-step process to make sustainable change in their schools, homes, and community.

Mental health: The capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face.

Mental health leader: Mental health leaders are employed by the school board to co-ordinate and support the development, implementation, and evaluation of the school board mental health strategy for enhanced student mental health and well-being.

Mental illness: A biological condition of the brain that causes alterations in thinking, mood, or behaviour and is often associated with significant distress and impaired functioning. “Mental illness” is related to "mental health" in the same way other illness is related to one's overall health. So even if we have a mental illness, we can still have the potential to have good mental health with the right treatment (e.g., medication, therapy) and supports (e.g., friends and family who care about them). Framing mental health as a positive concept and something that is attainable for all can bring a positive and hopeful tone to discussions with young people about mental health issues.

Parents/Caregivers and Family: Parents/caregivers and family include all caring and care-giving members in the lives of students. This may include but is not limited to parents/caregivers, grandparents, aunts/uncles, siblings, and babysitter or nanny.

Substance use/misuse: This term refers to the use of substances in potentially harmful ways. It includes both substance misuse, which is the use of substances in ways that are illegal or not recommended medically, and substance abuse, which involves excessive use of substances despite the physical, mental, emotional, social, legal, or economic harm that this may cause to oneself or others.

Public Health: The public health system is an extensive collection of governmental, nongovernmental, and community organizations operating at the local, provincial, and federal levels with varying roles, perspectives, and linkages. In Ontario, schools are supported by a system of 36 local public health units that collectively cover the entire province and are individually responsible for serving the population within their geographic borders. Public health can play a key role in supporting schools communities as it relates to Healthy Schools.

Reflection: An exercise that allows members of a school action team to discuss their healthy schools experience, including successes, challenges, and future opportunities. Reflection is included in all 4 steps of Ophea’s 4-Step Healthy Schools Process.

School community: All individuals who contribute to the health and well-being of students. This includes individuals who can influence students at school, in the surrounding neighbourhood, and at home.

School staff: Staff who are employed (in a paid position) by the school, including but not limited to educators, early child educators, principals, vice-principals, office staff, and custodial staff. This does not include volunteers.

School team: A group or committee operating in a school that supports planning and action as it relates to Healthy Schools. Members of the team should include individuals who are within (e.g., students, educators) and outside (e.g.,public health, parents/family) the physical school grounds.

School mental health professionals: Regulated mental health professionals employed by the school board to provide support for those students and their families who are more vulnerable. Examples are school social workers and school psychologists.

School Mental Health ASSIST: A provincial implementation team that works alongside the Ministry of Education, with the goal of supporting Ontario school boards with tools, resources, and coaching support for the development, implementation, and evaluation of a school board’s mental health strategy.

Stigma: Negative attitudes (prejudice) and negative behaviour (discrimination). Stigma has a profound impact on the way young people (and adults) discuss mental health and mental illness, and treat people experiencing mental illness.

Student well-being: Well-being is a positive sense of self, spirit, and belonging that we feel when our cognitive, emotional, social, and physical needs are being met. Well-being in early years and school settings is about helping children and students become resilient, so that they can make positive, healthy choices to support learning and achievement, now and in the future. (Definition retrieved from “Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy for Education Fact Sheet for Parents,” p. 2).

Substances: The term "substances" is commonly used as another word for “drugs.” There are many different types of substances, or drugs, that young people may use. Caffeinated energy drinks, cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription medications are some examples.