Western collaborates with universities to create mental health literacy tool

The faculties of education at several Canadian universities have collaborated to build a free online mental health literacy resource for teachers:

The curriculum resource, called Teach Mental Health, offers seven free modules that aim to equip educators with the necessary skills to understand and support their students’ mental health. Each module includes activities, self-assessment questions and supplementary learning resources for an in-depth understanding of the subject matter. Users can opt in to receive a completion certificate at the end of the course.

Over the past five years, Susan Rodger, associate professor in counselling psychology in Western University’s Faculty of Education, has worked alongside colleagues from Dalhousie University, St. Francis Xavier University and the University of British Columbia to build the online curriculum.

“We knew through previous work we had done that teachers at faculties of education … were not receiving any instruction about mental health,” said Rodger. “We knew through a study that the Canadian Teachers’ Federation did that around 70 per cent of teachers surveyed said they wished they knew more about mental health,… so we saw a big gap here between what was available and what was wanted.”

Rodger explained the project was initially meant to provide a resource on mental health literacy for pre-service teachers at faculties of education. However, she soon started receiving requests from practicing teachers who wanted to learn more about mental health and how they could better support their students. As a result, Rodger and colleagues decided to expand the project into a free online resource that anyone could take.

“The one place that most people go is school, and teachers are in a unique position not to treat mental health [and] not to tell people how to improve their mental health, but they see these children and families every day, and they develop relationships with them.… They notice what’s happening, and they can help connect a student and their family to the resources they need,” added Rodger.

She explained current figures indicate that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue during their lifetime, and not many Canadians will access the health system for mental health service due to stigma or lack of services. Specifically, she added, only about 30 per cent of children are ever seen by a healthcare professional.

“Teachers really care. They are there because they care about the education and the welfare of children. How can we not provide them with the very best information at our disposal about mental health?” she said.

Rodger teaches a mandatory course on mental health literacy to all education students at Western. She added that Western’s Faculty of Education was the first in Canada to make mental health literacy a mandatory course for students, while other universities were quick to follow. She completed the first major pilot test of the Teach Mental Health online curriculum at Western, and she continues to use some of the same material within her course.

According to Rodger, the curriculum was launched online about 10 days ago, and approximately 1,100 people signed up within the first week.

“We hope, by providing the education, that every teacher can feel confident they can create a classroom that is safe for all their students, not just physically safe, but emotionally and mentally safe,” said Rodger.