In May 2009, the Alberta Teachers’ Association partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Global Television to create the Healthy Minds, Bright Futures program, with the aim of increasing awareness of the mental health needs of children and decreasing the stigmatization that’s often associated with mental illness.
Part of that program was a publication entitled Compassionate Classrooms: Understanding Student Mental Health, which sought to help teachers promote good mental health in their students, in themselves and in their colleagues.
In January, the Association published an updated version entitled Creating a Compassionate Classroom. The ATA has so far distributed more than 3,600 copies to schools throughout the province and is fielding daily requests for more.
Executive staff officer Shelley Magnusson, who is responsible for the Association’s partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and regularly delivers presentations on understanding student mental health, orchestrated the update, which she explains in the following interview.
What is new in this version of the publication?
This version has added information about anxiety disorders and includes information on oppositional defiant disorders and conduct disorders. As well, there is updated information about the earlier onset of some mental health disorders. We have also updated the resource section by directing people to www.canwetalk.ca for the most up-to-date list of resources and lists of community partners and programs. By putting that information on the website, we are able to update it as needed.
Why did it need to be updated?
The new version really tackles the idea of mental health as being on a continuum, much like physical health. And much like physical health, everyone has mental health; unfortunately, it is often only talked about after someone is diagnosed with a mental illness. We want people to be as free talking about their mental health as they are about their physical health. The new resource approaches the concept of teaching positive mental health and encourages teachers to have open and frank (age-appropriate) discussions with their students regarding the stigma surrounding mental health issues. In addition, the former version was very text heavy, while we designed this one to be more approachable and less textbook-like.
Is there a particular target market?
This is for all teachers of all subjects and grade levels.
What kind of response are you getting?
We have been getting a phenomenal response. Teachers like the new format and the information. It is unfortunate that so many teachers are reporting an increase in mental health issues in their students and at a younger and younger age. We stress, in the resource and in my presentations, that teachers are not mental health practitioners. This resource helps teachers to recognize some of the early signs and symptoms so that they can advocate for the services their students need. Teachers can order copies for their school by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you feel about the response?
It is gratifying to produce a resource that teachers want to use in their classrooms. The Edmonton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association was great to work with, and all the information in the new resource was vetted through them before it went to print.
Is there further mental health information available?
Yes, we will also be posting a new set of lesson plans to assist teachers in talking about mental health issues with their students. The lesson plans have gone to a final edit and will be posted before Mental Health Week (May 2–6) and Hats On for Mental Health Day on May 4. ❚