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Mental Health Promotion: Overarching Approach to School Health

What is Mental Health Promotion?

Mental health promotion (MHP) is about empowering individuals and communities to take control over their lives to improve their mental health. MHP seeks to enhance self-esteem, coping skills, and family and community support and takes action on the determinants of health that influence mental well-being. MHP benefits entire populations by using strategies that are good for everyone. It focuses on protective factors and well-being instead of risk factors and illness.

Protective factors are individual and environmental determinants that build resilience and promote positive mental health. Protective factors include: balanced eating; physical activity; sleep; safe, accepting and inclusive environments; healthy and supportive relationships; social emotional skills; positive self-perception; and student engagement.

Educators are very well-positioned to contribute to positive mental health by building protective factors amongst students. According to School Mental Health Ontario, MHP “is the foundational everyday work you and your staff do to welcome and include students, to understand them and build knowledge of mental health, to promote mentally healthy habits and to partner with parents, students and other staff to create a supportive environment.”

How to Build Protective Factors?

Positive mental health for school aged children and youth can be achieved by focusing on protective factors. Protective factors are individual and environmental factors that increase the likelihood that young people will be resilient, safeguarding them from risk. Caring and socially responsible adults such as teachers and other school staff can support and build protective factors by:

  • Avoid talking about dieting, tracking calories or being more active to lose weight.
  • Focus on the benefits of fuelling the mind and body with a variety of food.
  • Provide opportunities to see, smell, touch, taste, grow and cook nutritious foods without talking about the “need” to eat them for health.
  • Acknowledge that healthy eating looks different to everyone and can be influenced by our culture and family situations such as income, education or time.
  • Focus on the fun and social aspects of being active and less on competition.
  • Introduce new and challenging activities to develop students’ skills and confidence.
  • Create opportunities for students to play in nature and explore the outdoors.
  • Redirect students away from a focus on weight and appearance when discussing the benefits of physical activity.
  • Encourage recreational and extracurricular activities where adult role models help students develop a positive sense of self.
  • Reflect on your own beliefs and attitudes about health such as, body size, eating, activity and how you feel about yourself.
  • Promote body acceptance. Respect and celebrate all bodies.
  • Address weight-based teasing in the classroom and on the yard.
  • Critically assess media to challenge students’ assumptions about people based on their weight or appearance to dispel weight-based stereotypes.
  • Focus on health and not weight. Never weigh students or have them calculate Body Mass Index (BMI).
  • Learn how to properly pronounce student names and greet each student as they enter the class each day.
  • Use students’ identified pronouns. Ask questions about and get clarity on respectful language for talking about sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Use factual information about people, events, reactions and feelings to talk about race.
  • Provide opportunities for students to express their own perspectives and respectfully listen to others who may have differing ideas or perspectives.
  • Safe, accepting and inclusive environments video
  • Consider matching up peer-buddies, to support challenging transitions.
  • Support students to recognize changes in their thoughts and emotions and to identify when it’s more than just a bad day that requires more support.
  • Help students to locate the local mental health supports in the community.
  • Promote the Health Unit’s sexual health clinics as appropriate.
  • Use this tool when considering mental health awareness initiatives and services for the classroom or school.

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