New research released by People for Education paints an alarming picture of the current state of the mental health and well-being of students and staff in Ontario schools – with reports of a woeful lack of resources and supports available to address students’ mental health and well-being concerns, and a growing rate of “burnout” among teachers and education support staff.
The data confirms and echoes repeated calls made by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) for the Ford government to immediately and significantly enhance mental health services in schools, and expand school-based resources and supports – ensuring equitable distribution across the province.
“Despite the best efforts of Catholic teachers, and all educators, the COVID-19 pandemic magnified and exacerbated issues of student mental health and well-being, and negatively impacted student learning,” says OECTA President Barb Dobrowolski. “If the government is serious about addressing pandemic-related learning loss, and the mental health and well-being needs of students and educators, then it must properly invest in a real plan that provides the necessary in-class resources and supports to ensure every student gets the learning environment they need and deserve, regardless of where they live.”
The Association’s recent submission to the government, as part of the 2023-24 budget-development process, outlines a number of recommendations related to mental health and well-being, including:
- the need to acknowledge the relationship between mental health and equitable student outcomes, and a requirement for all mental health interventions to be culturally responsive and adaptable to meet the diverse needs of all students, with particular attention paid to equity-deserving students and those from vulnerable communities;
- the immediate and drastic enhancement of school-based resources, supports, and services, including hiring of additional mental health professionals, such as social workers, psychologists, guidance teachers, child and youth workers, and school mental health workers;
- dedicated investment to support ongoing mental health-related professional development opportunities for educators; and
- an investment in proactive and comprehensive mental health assessment of students, to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student mental health and well-being.
To ensure the development of a robust plan that reflects the unique circumstances of Ontario schools, Catholic teachers are once again calling on the government to engage in meaningful collaboration with education unions, relevant education stakeholders, and mental health experts. The need to urgently address these issues is made all the more critical given the rising number of violent incidents, in society broadly, and in schools.
“If we are going to address these issues at their root, we need a comprehensive and multifaceted approach,” says Dobrowolski. “Teachers, education workers, school administrators – everyone – is sounding the alarm about a growing mental health crisis in schools. It’s past time the government listened – as our schools work best when the government listens to and respects educators’ experience and expertise.”