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Ontario Shores expands adolescent mental health and education programs

March 1, 2012
by News release
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Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores) has expanded its Adolescent Mental Health Literacy Program to four additional Ontario school boards and two private schools: Thames Valley District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto District School Board, Waterloo Region District School Board, St. Clement's School and Upper Canada College.

More than 300 teachers, educators and allied staff took part in this week's training to help bring mental health curriculum into schools. The curriculum and training will support education and awareness, help identify youth with mental health struggles and reduce stigma.

In Canada, approximately 20% of adolescents suffer from some sort of mental disorder, but very few receive the care they need. Without support and specialized treatment, these youth can face struggles that create the possibility for failure at school, social isolation, self-harm and/or suicide.

As a leading provider of specialized mental health care, Ontario Shores knows that a lack of understanding and mental health stigma are key factors as to why so many youth are not identified or do not get the help they need. Education and reducing the stigma of mental illness are vital in order to change those numbers.

Seventeen schools from Durham, Peterborough and Northumberland area school boards piloted the program in October 2011 with great success, sparking overwhelming interest from schools and school boards across Ontario and showing there is a great need for this initiative.

"One in 5 children and youth suffer from a psychiatric illness yet the majority are not getting the care required," says Glenna Raymond, President and CEO of Ontario Shores. "By bringing mental health curriculum into our schools, training educators and supporting it with anti-stigma tools we hope to see earlier identification of mental health issues and care for all those young people in need."

Based on the work by Dr. Stan Kutcher, a world leader in adolescent mental health, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the program curriculum provides a complete set of educational tools to increase understanding of mental health and mental illnesses among teachers, educators, students and primary healthcare providers; with the goal to eliminate stigma and promote early identification and treatment.

"When young people, their teachers and their health providers are literate about mental health and mental disorders they can: educate others; change the stigma against mental disorders into understanding and support; provide best evidence-based care and together move the health and wellbeing of young people in a positive direction," says Dr. Kutcher. "It is a privilege to be part of this important movement."

Ontario Shores partnered with Dr. Kutcher to deliver the program that consists of four key components: a best practice mental health curriculum to better equip educators to teach about mental illness; a teacher training workshop that trains educators on how to best use the curriculum in their classrooms; a gatekeeper training program which trains key school personnel to identify young people who may have a mental illness, and how to appropriately triage and refer; and, a primary health care provider training program that addresses the four most common mental illnesses in adolescents.

The four components together ensure an integrated program geared to support adolescents at all levels: with increased mental health awareness amongst their peers and their teachers; the encouragement to seek help if needed; educators trained in early identification tools; and appropriate access to treatment and care.

The program is an excellent example of healthcare partnering with education to achieve positive results and true impact. "Ontario Shores has done an outstanding job in working with school boards and other involved participants to energetically and significantly bring fundamental components of mental health literacy into Ontario secondary schools and to primary care health providers," said Dr. Kutcher.

This brings the total training to more than 450 people. Moving forward, Ontario Shores anticipates continued expansion of the program.

Ontario Shores is also enhancing its "You're Not Alone" awareness campaign, which is carefully designed to serve as a booster to the program activity in the schools, with a documentary about adolescent mental health currently in production. The campaign uses print and multimedia online, in schools and at targeted Mac's Milk convenience stores to increase awareness of mental illness and decrease stigma amongst youth.  

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