Mental health: a basic human right of children and youth

January 17, 2012 Pauline Théoret, Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Every once in a while, you hear, see or experience something that reminds you that all is not as it should be. As classroom teachers, we may be unaware of the statistics, we may get caught up in the standardization agenda, and we may sometimes lose sight of the human being that is every one of our students. We do the absolute best we can with what we have, but sometimes we’re ill-prepared to deal with a pervasive issue that has the potential to be as cataclysmic to society as any “man-made” or natural disaster. You may think this is an exaggeration, but the statistics are surprising and the impact of those statistics could be far-reaching: 1 in 5—you’ve seen or heard of this before; 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from mental illness; 1 in 5 young people live with a mental disorder; and 70% of these disorders become symptomatic during childhood or adolescence. Suppose you’re a classroom teacher with an average of 25 students, you could potentially be dealing with five or more different mental disorders. How do you do it? How do you help? Where do you go for help? Are they really disorders or are they simply behaviour problems? Is there a difference? What’s the difference? How can I help? What can I do?

So how as a profession can we communicate together to increase awareness, share tips on resources, have access to service providers and expertise, discuss anonymous situations and brainstorm effective classroom solutions? How can we help our students, and our colleagues, who are affected by or afflicted with a mental disorder not be marginalized, de-humanized or de-professionalized. As an organization, CTF is trying to help teachers to help students. In collaboration with other organizations, we’re attempting to lay the groundwork for systemic change within our own education system. We’re speaking out on Mental Health and we’re partnering with the “Partners for Mental Health”, a not-for-profit charity whose start-up is supported financially by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

The vision of “Partners for Mental Health” is to propel a social movement that will transform the way people think about and act towards people living with a mental illness. They aim to empower individuals and organizations to take action, leading to unprecedented improvements in mental health services, mental health research funding and the mental well-being of all ­Canadians.

In April 2012, Partners for Mental Health will launch a grassroots-based social media site that will facilitate the sharing of information, the dialogue, and the access to resources with the goal of mobilizing the public to de-stigmatize mental illness. As teachers who work and build relationships with youth on a daily basis, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation believes this social media platform focussed on mental health can be a hub where teachers go to access the tools and supports we require. Together as a profession, we can empower ourselves, help de-stigmatize mental illness and work towards systemic change that will confirm that mental health is indeed a basic human right of children and youth.

Our students—the future generation of decision-makers on matters of policy, economics and social priorities—need to be knowledgeable, understanding, empathetic, and healthy—mentally and physically. As individuals and society, we wholeheartedly invest in education, and we invest in health care. We must however increase our individual and collaborative investment in mental health; our future depends on it.

There are other initiatives in Canada that teachers should know about. If you’re looking for tools, resources, or tutorials visit:

  • Centre for Addictions and Mental Health—a bilingual web site that specializes in mental health and addictions and offers educator resources and tutorials.
  • Teen Mental Health—a web site that houses curricula that could answer many of your questions. While this web site is English only, some resources are available in both official languages. www.­
  • The Academy in Mental Health for Educators—a new program by Teen Mental Health was offered in early July to over 200 public school educators from Manitoba to the Maritimes. Visit www.­ for information on the Academy.
  • The School-Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Consortium will hold its 3rd National Symposium on Child and Youth Mental Health May 30-June 1, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta.

So let’s go back to the initial, perhaps perceived, exaggeration of not seeing the reality of mental illness as a potential cataclysm. While no one likes to put a dollar figure to something that is so personal and so human, sometimes the economic reality puts the issue into perspective—or at least it should. It was estimated in 2009 that $51 billion was the cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy in terms of health care and lost productivity, and that mental health was the number one cause of disability in Canada. How much do you think our country allocates to mental health? According to 2008 statistics, 5.5% of health care dollars went to support mental health. We don’t even know how many, if any, education funding supports mental health initiatives. If we don’t join together to fix this now a potential cataclysm could turn into a real one.

iDr. Stan Kutcher, Presentation, , [], September 27, 2011.
iiiCentre for Addiction and Mental Health, “Mental Health and Addiction Statistics”, [], September 27, 2011.

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