Mental Health Matters: UBC Faculty of Education is Leading the Way
Developing Mental Health Literate Educators
The UBC Faculty of Education is preparing future educators who will be on the front line of addressing mental health problems among the young people they teach in schools. Teachers are often the first to observe the earliest signs of a mental disorder and be in a position to seek help; however, they need to develop mental health literacy in order to be effective in understanding and supporting their students’ mental health needs.
Mental health literacy is conceptualized by Dr. Stan Kutcher (Dalhousie) as understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health, knowing about mental disorders and their treatments, decreasing stigma related to mental disorders, and enhancing help-seeking efficacy. This approach underpins the work the Faculty of Education has undertaken since 2016 under the leadership of Dean Blye Frank and his Senior Advisor, Dr. Wendy Carr.
The first place to infuse mental health literacy was the Faculty’s teacher education program, which prepares between 700 and 800 candidates annually. Knowing that a proactive educational approach could potentially impact thousands of K to 12 students, Carr joined forces with colleagues at Western, St. Francis Xavier and Dalhousie to co-develop TeachMentalHealth, a freely available online resource. Seven modules introduce mental health, brain development, mental illnesses and treatment, help-seeking, self-care, and more and can be taken as part of or as a complete, self-guided or instructor-facilitated course. While designed for pre-service teachers, the resources can benefit anyone wanting to learn more about how to maintain mental health, reduce stigma and seek help for oneself or others in the case of a mental illness.
TeachMentalHealth is now part of the required course that all UBC teacher candidates take as part of their BEd program, and other universities across Canada (and a few in the US) are implementing it in whole or in part within their teacher education programs.
Blye Frank: “Developing one’s mental health knowledge and skills is part of a set of professional competencies necessary for today’s educators.”
Several research studies have now been conducted at UBC as well as in other universities using the resource, showing significant and sustained increases in understanding about mental health and mental illness, reductions in stigma and improvement in help-seeking attitudes.
BC school districts have also been developing mental health literacy through core trainer institutes led by the Faculty of Education. Three institutes have been held since May 2018, involving lead educators from 58 of BC’s 60 school districts. These trainers return to their district to lead professional learning for their colleagues and students.
To supplement in-person professional development, Dr. Stan Kutcher worked with the Faculty of Education Professional Development Community Engagement unit to produce a massive open online course (MOOC) called Bringing Mental Health to Schools, launched last year and already taken by thousands of educators across Canada and around the world.
Using a dual-focused approach with pre-service and in-service educators, the Faculty hopes to support the development of mental health literacy in K to 12 and post-secondary contexts in order to make a difference in mental health statistics in schools and beyond.
Wendy Carr: “We have learned, through formal research and informal student feedback, that developing one’s mental health literacy can have direct impact not only on one’s own mental health but also that of one’s family and others.”
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