In this issue

  1. Professional development courses
  2. Meet our new Interim Director
  3. Community highlight – United States nonprofits

Welcome to another edition of the Conversation – a place where we provide information on happenings in the area of youth mental health. Feel free to join the conversation by sharing questions, feedback, photos, or ideas for future editions.

Professional development courses

In October 2017 and August 2018, TeenMentalHealth.Org launched two online professional learning courses. Since then we have been able to reach thousands of educators nationally and globally who otherwise may not have had access to our mental health literacy resources.

Bringing Mental Health to Schools has made it possible for more educators and administrators to learn how to apply the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide in their classrooms as well as upgrade their own mental health literacy. This online professional development opportunity for educators, previously only delivered face-to-face, has offered those in rural communities and those unable to attend training sessions the opportunity to participate in this important professional development. A 2018 study conducted by Dr. Wendy Carr (University of British Columbia), Dr. Stan Kutcher and Dr. Yifeng Wei compared the effect of in-person versus online professional development and the results of both interventions were significantly positive and there was little difference whether the individual took the training in-person or online. This research has proven that regardless of how you are getting the information, mental health literacy in participants is improved.

Teach Mental Health was developed in collaboration with Faculties of Education from St. Francis Xavier University (Dr. Chris Gilham), Western University (Dr. Susan Roger) and the University of British Columbia (Dr. Wendy Carr) along with Drs. Kutcher and Wei from TeenMentalHealth.Org. The course was designed to provide pre-service teachers a foundation in mental health literacy, including effective strategies to use in their classrooms and their own life. This resource can also be applied by in-service teachers who are dedicated to achieving better understanding about student mental health and learning how to take good care of their own mental health.

“In a few surveys within the last several years, we’ve learned that teachers don’t feel they are adequately prepared to deal with the mental health problems seen in schools. We know that most pre-service teacher programs (such as Bachelor of Education) are not educating in the realm of mental health literacy,” says Dr. Chris Gilham on the need for a course that addresses this gap in teacher education. Providing students with this knowledge will help them immensely as they enter the workforce. The course is currently mandatory for teacher candidates at UBC and as of next year, Teach Mental Health will also be mandatory for all Bachelor of Education students at St FX. The goal is to have the course integrated into all Faculty of Education programs across Canada.

“Educators can play an important role in supporting young people in their mentally healthy growth and development and in the early detection of mental disorders and referral for care if needed.  They spend a significant amount of time with young people, some of whom may show early signs of a mental illness, particularly during the adolescent years when most mental disorders can be diagnosed. They are often the first to observe student behaviours that may portend mental health problems or be the first to secure support for students in need,” says Dr. Wendy Carr of the importance this course can have on a teacher’s role in the classroom.

Dr. Gilham agrees that these resources will improve the help-seeking behaviours of both students and teachers in the long-term.

“We need to help teachers and students differentiate between the worried well and those who truly need support from professionals. Hopefully this will help both students and teachers.”

Meet our new Interim Director

Dr. Yifeng Wei, MA, PhD has worked as a researcher and school mental health lead with the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health team since 2008. She holds the assistant professor position with the Dalhousie University Psychiatry department.

Her research interest has focused on promoting mental health literacy in schools to help students achieve better understanding about mental health and mental disorders, reduce stigma against mental illness, obtain and maintain good mental health and enhance help-seeking behaviors. She has played a key role in school mental health research and program development activities, and has made significant contributions to the work of the team.

Dr. Wei has co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications and one book on school mental health. She has also presented at the local, regional, national and international levels at scientific meetings and conferences. Dr. Wei holds an Interdisciplinary PhD degree in school mental health with Dalhousie University and was awarded the Canadian Institute of Health Research Doctoral Research Award in 2011 and the Dalhousie University President’s award in 2011 and 2012.

Dr. Wei looks forward to continuing to work with the Teen Mental Health team to build and disseminate evidence-based mental health literacy resources for the community.

Community highlight – United States nonprofits

Over the past year in the United States, legislation has been passed in several states mandating that mental health education be part of the school curriculum. A few organizations in particular have been working collaboratively with TeenMentalHealth.Org to bring mental health literacy into the classroom.

The Jordan Binion Project has done extensive work in Washington State over the past several years and thanks to their dedication, the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide (The Guide) is being used in over 99 schools boards in the state. Their team has also been conducting educator training in Washington and surrounding areas to ensure every student and teacher has access to these resources.

“Our focus as an organization is to heavily promote mental health education in our schools.  As an organization we have done extensive research into available mental health curriculums and have found nothing that comes close to the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide in covering the topic of Mental Health in a comprehensive manner,” says Deborah Binion, CEO of the Jordan Binion Project.

Deborah and her husband Willie traveled to Halifax last summer to attend a three-day core training session and have since been working tirelessly to educate as many people working with youth on the importance of these resources. Throughout their travels, Deborah says they have received hundreds of letters from youth who have been positively impacted by the curriculum.
“If a young person doesn’t personally have a mental illness, they are going to come into contact with someone who does at some point in their life, whether it be a family member, friend or co-worker.  It is important for people to understand what mental illness is (a brain disorder) and what it is not (a weakness, or character flaw).”

In New York The Jed Foundation (JED) recently partnered with TeenMentalHealth.Org to integrate the curriculum training with their ongoing mental health initiatives. In order to do this, the Guide underwent a review and has since been approved to meet mental health curriculum requirements under new laws in New York State.

Since 2000, JED has developed a number of programs and resources to help protect the emotional health of youth and the prevention of suicide. The work they are doing spans secondary to post-secondary settings and has had huge impact across the country. Members of the JED team recently took part in a training session led by Dr. Yifeng Wei on the Guide and will soon begin to facilitate regional training across New York State.

Dr. Sara Gorman, Director of High School Programming feels that, “without mental health literacy, students will not know when and how to seek help for themselves or their friends. Ensuring teenagers and young adults have a solid foundation of mental health literacy is so important. Encouraging help-seeking and help-giving behaviors are cornerstones to improving mental health among teens and young adults, and mental health literacy is a key method to ensure that these behaviors can occur.”

In South Carolina, Dr. Mark Weist, full professor of the Department of Psychology and director of the School Behavioral Health Team at the University of South Carolina, has recently been funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute to integrate the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide into his multi-year project addressing the system of care in the school setting. The project, Patient-Centered Enhancements in School Behavioral Health: A Randomized Trial Application, aims to improve youth mental health using multi-tier prevention approach, with mental health literacy as the foundation to build mentally healthy schools.

With the momentum underway in Washington, New York and South Carolina, more school boards across the country are starting to recognize the importance of mental health literacy in schools. These conversations will hopefully lead towards a national mental health curriculum mandate and improved outcomes for youth.