Ontario adds more mental health learning to school curriculum

Burlington MPP whose teen son died by suicide a few years ago has pushed for this type of initiative

By Allison Jones

Ontario is adding new curriculum expectations on mental-health literacy for Grade 10 students and giving teachers more resources for students in Grades 7 and 8.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government will also spend $26 million over the next two years to provide mental-health resources to students over the summer, so their support isn’t interrupted by the school break.

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

“Nearly half of students in Grades 7 to 12 said that they wanted to reach out to someone about a mental-health problem during their first year of the pandemic, but they simply didn’t know who to turn to. We know we must, and we can, ensure that this is no longer the case.”

Lecce made the announcements Monday alongside Natalie Pierre, who represents the riding of Burlington for the Progressive Conservatives and who has been pushing for more mental-health literacy in schools since her 17-year-old son died by suicide almost six years ago.

Pierre said this approach is proactive, practical and evidence-based, reaching students at a time when mental-health issues often emerge, and she hopes the new steps help prevent tragedies like the one her family experienced.

“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,” she said, wiping tears away.

“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. In the months and years that followed, I was shocked at just how many people: colleagues, family members, friends, neighbours, lawyers, teachers contacted me and came forward to share their own personal experience with mental-health struggles and how they suffered in silence. I decided we needed to do something about that.”

Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum, updated in 2019, already includes learning on mental-health literacy in every grade, but Monday’s announcement adds curriculum expectations for the Grade 10 career studies course, helping students to recognize signs of being overwhelmed or struggling, as well as where to find help.

As well, teachers of the Grade 7 and 8 health and physical education curriculum will get new lesson plans including student activities, videos, interactive programming and information designed to help students learn how to manage stress and recognize signs and symptoms of a mental-health concern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2023.