Mental health literacy is not mental health intervention

RE: “Island teachers trained to detect mental health disorders in the classroom”.

Hoping for something does not make it so - a lesson most of us learn early in life when the magical thinking of childhood is lost. Training teachers to deliver curriculum designed to increase knowledge of mental health issues does one specific thing - increases knowledge of mental health issues. A worthy goal in itself, but what does the evidence actually tell us about this program’s ability to support student mental health and wellbeing?

We are encouraged that the PEI Department of Education is attempting to find ways to reduce stigma and increase awareness and understanding of mental health issues, and existing evidence for mental health literacy programs such as this one supports these claims. However, it is misleading to suggest, as Education Minister Jordan Brown has, that this program will necessarily “support student well-being and achievement, and prevent and reduce mental health issues that can escalate in later life”. Essentially, Minister Brown is making an erroneous link between mental health literacy and mental health promotion and wellbeing.

Furthermore, expecting that the teachers who attended a two day seminar should now have the skills or resources to engage in any meaningful mental health intervention places yet another demand on already overburdened teachers. It simply isn’t realistic and could potentially be dangerous for both the students and teachers involved.  

So before we ‘check the box’ on student mental health and wellbeing, we must first ask: What are we doing to promote a whole school approach to student wellbeing, resiliency, and social and emotional learning? Will our students be mentally and emotionally prepared to thrive in the world beyond public school? How can we most effectively support students who are facing mental health challenges, beyond simply distinguishing ‘normal’ from ‘abnormal’ stresses in life? Clearly, there’s more work to be done.

Susan Hartley, Critic for Health & Wellness

Karla Bernard, Critic for Education

Trish Altass, Critic for Workforce and Advanced Learning