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School-Based Mental Health in Canada: A Final Report

In spite of considerable and increasing activity in school mental health in Canada over the past decade, there has been a lack of integration and common vision across initiatives. Recognizing this gap, the former Child and Youth Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) developed an initiative to understand what is known about effective school-based mental health and substance abuse programs and to discover the current context of Canadian school systems in this area. The focus for the Request for Proposals (RFP), issued in 2008, was on developing a broad framework and practical recom­mendations for school mental health and substance use services that would be applicable across geogra­phy and jurisdictions.

Four key deliverables were identified:

  • A synthesis of the national and international literature related to frameworks and best practices in school mental health and substance use
  • An environmental scan of existing programs and services in Canada
  • A national survey of school districts related to their needs and practices
  • Knowledge translation and exchange activities, including an interactive national symposium for key stakeholders.

The SBMHSA Consortium represents a cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, and geographically diverse set of leaders in research, policy, and practice. Stakeholders were invited to join the Consortium based on their recognized excellence in the field, content and/or methodological expertise, links to key networks and organizations, and commitment to working together for Canadian children and youth.

The Consortium was organized into two main camps: Core Members and Key Stakeholder Members. Core members were leaders in the field with strong teams at their disposal. Key Stakeholder Members were affiliated with existing teams and who had links to specific constituencies (i.e., specific school boards, Aboriginal populations, cultural groups). Often, members provided a specialized skill set that enhanced the Consortium’s capacity as a whole. Collectively, the Consortium represents a growing community of practice where new knowledge can be generated, existing knowledge can be synthesized, and best and emerging models of practice can be shared and further evolved.

The Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health was identified as the principal lead or­ganization for the project and the work began in 2009. Four teams were created; Review, Scan, Survey, and Knowledge Translation and Exchange (KTE). The teams undertook work consistent with the main delivera­bles identified by the MHCC including: a review of literature on school mental health and substance use, a scan of best practices in Canadian schools, and a survey to school boards and schools seeking input on the state of child and youth mental health programs in Canada.

The consortium’s findings are aligned with the Evergreen Framework, a guide for child and youth mental health released by the MHCC in 2010, which emphasizes mental health promotion and prevention from intervention through to ongoing care. Results from the project also support the recommendations related to promotion and prevention for children and youth in school in Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada released by the MHCC in 2012.

In summary, the SBMHSA Consortium project was designed to take stock of the various practices in Cana­da and growing evidence base, to determine national needs and priorities going forward.

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In Canada, an estimated 1.6 million children and youth have a diagnosed mental health challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious global economic and social impacts, and it continues to...