Ontario Education Minister announces mental health support for students during Burlington visit

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, with Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo and Burlington MPP Natalie Pierre, announces mental health funding during a visit to Burlington's Climber's Rock at 5155 Harvester Rd.Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, with Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo and Burlington MPP Natalie Pierre, announces mental health funding during a visit to Burlington's Climber's Rock at 5155 Harvester Rd.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce kicked off National Mental Health Week in Burlington by announcing new mental health resources and funding to help students.

The minister, joined by Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo and Burlington MPP Natalie Pierre, stated during a Monday, May 1 visit that to strengthen mental health learning and supports in the classroom, the government is updating the Grade 10 Career Studies curriculum with a mental health component and is introducing mandatory resources for teachers and students on mental health literacy in Grades 7 and 8.

“We recognize that mental health is foundational to the success of a child – yes, in academics, but well beyond that,” said Lecce.

“We’re going to ensure that new educators now have more detailed and focused training on student mental health and special education. This will make sure our educators at the front of the class are in a better position to help our kids.”

The new mandatory mental health literacy resources will include:

• New learning materials for Grade 7 and 8 students, such as videos and interactive programming and information that will help students learn how to manage stress, understand the relationship between mental health and mental illness, recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health concern, counteract mental health stigma and know when and how to get help.

• Mandatory learning on mental health literacy for Grade 10 students who will start in fall 2024 and includes how to recognize signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help locally when needed. This will be included in the Career Studies course.

Lecce also announced an additional $12 million this year, $14 million in 2024 and $16 million in 2025 to provide mental health services to students over the summer months.

He said this funding would further students’ access to school-based mental health professionals and services year-round, with the aim of providing students with consistent and reliable support.

“We know students, today more than ever, are facing real challenges when it comes to mental health,” said Lecce.

“Eating disorders and depression are at a level we have not seen before in our society. Self-doubt, anxiety and bullying, especially online, is facing so many kids… Our young people need to know they are not alone and that they can get the help they need.”

The minister said the coming changes followed a motion that was brought forward by Pierre in the legislature.

The Burlington MPP said she began advocacy work to get mental health education in Ontario classrooms after her son Mike took his own life.

“Mike seemed just like any other student. The day before he died, he took a university campus tour, he worked a few hours at his part-time job and he got together with friends. The night before, he went to a school dance. Anyone seeing him would have observed a normal, healthy teenager. But we know now that was not the case,” said Pierre. “Our approach is proactive, practical and evidence-based. It reaches students where they are at and at a time in their lives when mental health issues often arise. It’s my hope this will prevent tragedies like the one we and many other families experienced.”

The Ontario government says it will increase mental health funding in schools to $114 million in 2023-24.

Approximately $50.4 million of those funds will be used to help school boards meet local needs and priorities related to mental health through professional development, student engagement, wellness promotion and mental health professionals.

Another $26.5 million will be used to hire permanent mental health workers in secondary schools, while $6.5 million will be used by the Ontario School Mental Health to provide clinical expertise, resources and practical tools for educators and the delivery of professional learning to school-based mental health clinicians.

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