Promoting Mental Health and Wellness in the Classroom in Honour of World Mental Health Day
Elder Jim Dumont… described how the four directions – the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual – are all necessary to mental wellness at the individual, family, and community level… The key task for supporting mental wellness is to facilitate connections at each of these levels and across the four directions.
Mental health and wellness in the classroom
As educators, we have the great fortune and privilege of working closely with young people during the most formative years of their lives. We guide our students through challenging material, watch them overcome obstacles and develop new skills, and celebrate their growth and accomplishments together. We build positive relationships and often get to know our students well; in time, we learn what works for each of them and figure out what it takes to motivate, encourage, and support them on their individual learning journeys. But what happens when we can’t?
What happens when a typically playful child becomes disinterested in playing with others, or when we notice a significant and persistent shift in the behaviour or demeanour of a student? When our go-to solutions aren’t working and we recognize that something is wrong, it is time to try something new. In honour of the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day, we have gathered some resources and suggestions for promoting good mental health and wellness and compiled them here for you to try.
These resources are not a replacement for mental health professionals. They are intended to help educators create warm and welcoming environments that foster good mental health as a preventative measure, and provide supplementary support to students facing mental health challenges.
World Mental Health Day
On October 10th, communities around the world celebrated World Mental Health day. The goal of this day is to spread awareness of mental health challenges, break the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promote good mental health.
What is mental health?
From an Indigenous perspective, mental health is one part of a greater puzzle that, once complete, represents a human being’s overall wellness. Often, this is depicted in the form of a Medicine Wheel. You might have seen one: a circle with four quadrants to represent the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental aspects of our being (or, heart, spirit, body, and mind). There are variations on the Medicine Wheel across Nations, but the underlying message remains the same: balance is the key to wellness, and nurturing the mind is an important part of achieving balance.
The video below was created collaboratively by Learning Bird and Seven Generations High School in Ontario to teach us about wellness and mental health from this perspective. This video can serve as an excellent reference for teachers, as well as a great teaching tool in the classroom!
Teaching strategies for the promotion of good mental health
The stigma surrounding mental health can add tremendous weight to an already difficult situation. Often, people who are struggling with their mental health may withdraw from others instead of reaching out for help. Youth might feel alienated or alone in their struggles or worry about being perceived as weak. One way you can fight the stigma is by talking about it and breaking it down with your students.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has created a nationally recognized program called Talking About Mental Illness (TAMI) to do just that. The program contains an entire section dedicated to the deconstruction of harmful myths about mental health. Their TAMI Teacher’s Resource provides solid background information for educators and a number of activities for students, including five on the topic of stigma alone.
Normalize conversations around mental health
In addition to facilitating activities, as a teacher you have the power to set the tone and the norms in your classroom. By incorporating opportunities for community-building into daily or weekly routines and creating healthy classroom habits, you can help students feel safe and find a sense of belonging. Encouraging students to help one another, holding sharing circles, making time to mediate conflicts, and sharing personal anecdotes about your own life lessons can make all the difference in your students’ lives.
You might also consider creating a Personal Wellness Plan with your class at the beginning of each month, each semester, or one-on-one anytime you see a student who could use the support. This activity, which was created with Seven Generations High School, offers students the opportunity to reflect upon their present state of wellbeing and make plans to maintain or improve elements of their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
Foster community connections
From a holistic perspective, an individual is connected to all of the members of their family, community, nation, and beyond. Wellness and good mental health, therefore, require strong personal relationships and support from their community at school and more broadly. You can help students find a sense of belonging by inviting community members, guest speakers, local mental health experts, Elders, and family members into your school and classrooms to share information and stories about mental health.
It is also beneficial for your students to participate in community and cultural activities. Watch the video below to learn about the ways that cultural activities and ceremonies promote mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health, and listen to lessons from Elder Gilbert Smith.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
We teach our students that it takes strength to ask for help when they need it and so, we must do the same. If you see a student in a mental health crisis, don’t hesitate to find the support you need to keep them safe. A school guidance counsellor, mental health support workers, family members, and Elders can all help a student in different ways. Connect them to the necessary people and resources to form a strong safety net for the youth in your community.
We would love to hear your feedback on the strategies provided. Which of the strategies provided do you think could be of most use to your students? Or, what practices are you already implementing to support wellness and good mental health in your classroom? To share feedback and/or suggestions of your own, contact us by e-mail anytime. We would love to hear from you.