Promoting Mental Health and Wellness in the Classroom
“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 level 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 their most formative years. Educators guide learners through challenging material, watch them overcome obstacles and develop new skills. We celebrate their growth and accomplishments together. Educators build positive relationships with learners and often get to know them well. We learn what works for them. We 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? What if we notice a significant and persistent shift in a learner’s behaviour or demeanour? 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.
These resources are not a replacement for mental health professionals. They can help educators create warm and welcoming environments that foster good mental health. These are preventative measures and supplementary supports for learners facing mental health challenges.
World Mental Health Day
On October 10, communities worldwide celebrate World Mental Health Day. The goal is to spread awareness about mental health challenges, break the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promote good mental health.
What is mental health and wellness?
From an Indigenous perspective, mental health is one part of a greater puzzle. Once complete, it represents a human being’s overall wellness. We often see this depicted as a Medicine Wheel. You might have seen one. It’s a circle with four quadrants representing the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental aspects—our heart, spirit, body, and mind. There are variations on the Medicine Wheel across Nations. Still, the underlying message remains the same. Balance is the key to wellness, and nurturing the mind is important for achieving balance.
Learning Bird collaborated with Seven Generations Education Institute on the video below. The goal is to teach wellness and mental health from an Indigenous perspective. This video can serve as an excellent reference and teaching tool for educators!
Teaching Strategies for Promoting Good Mental Health
Fight Stigma Around Mental Wellness
The stigma surrounding mental health can add tremendous weight to an already difficult situation. Often, people struggling with mental health withdraw from others instead of seeking help. Youth might feel alienated or alone in their struggles or worry about others perceiving them as weak. You can fight the stigma by talking about it and breaking it down with your learners.
The Canadian Mental Health Association created the nationally recognized program Talking About Mental Illness (TAMI) to do just that. The program contains an entire section dedicated to deconstructing harmful myths about mental health. Their TAMI Teacher’s Resource provides solid background information for educators and several activities for learners, including five on the topic of stigma.
Normalize Mental Health and Wellness Conversations
In addition to facilitating activities, educators can set the tone and norms in their classroom. Incorporate opportunities for community-building into daily or weekly routines and create healthy classroom habits. These can help learners feel safe and find a sense of belonging. Encourage learners to help one another. Educators can hold sharing circles, mediate conflicts, and share personal anecdotes about their lives. That can make all the difference in learners’ perceptions.
You might consider creating a Personal Wellness Plan with your class at the beginning of each month, semester, or anytime you see a learner who could use the support. We created this activity with Seven Generations Education Institute. It offers learners the opportunity to reflect on their present state of well-being. Then, learners plan to maintain or improve mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health elements.
Foster Community Connections
From a holistic perspective, there is a connection between individuals and their family, community, nation, and beyond. Therefore, wellness and good mental health require strong personal relationships and support from their community at school and more broadly. Invite community members, guest speakers, local mental health experts, Elders, and family members to your school to foster that sense of belonging. Invite guests to share information and stories about mental health.
It is also beneficial for your learners to participate in community and cultural activities. Listen to these lessons from Elder Gilbert Smith. In this video, you will learn how cultural activities and ceremonies promote mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health.
Ask for Help With Mental Wellness
If we teach learners that asking for help takes strength, we must model this behaviour. If you see a learner experiencing a mental health crisis, find supports to keep them safe. School guidance counsellors, mental health support workers, family members, and Elders can all help learners differently. Connect the necessary people and resources to form a strong safety net for youth in your community.
We would love to hear your feedback on these strategies. Which strategies could be of most use to your learners? What practices are you already implementing to support wellness and good mental health in your classroom? To share feedback or suggestions, contact us by e-mail anytime. We would love to hear from you.