Nov. 12 to 16 marked International Education Week, celebrated by over 100 countries around the world. International Education Week gives us the opportunity to appreciate the culture of Canadian learning in a global context, as well as the diverse programs and exchanges of knowledge that students experience at all levels of education.
It’s also an occasion to think about how we can further enrich our province’s education system to improve the lives of our students in the classroom, at home and in the community. Educating students on positive mental health is an important place to start.
This year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness.
This statistic applies not just to the adult population but to children as well, and it reveals the need for positive mental health education in schools.
Academic success depends on much more than high grades and good study habits.
It requires the skills to deal with bullying, peer pressure, frustration and anxiety.
The Provincial Wellness Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador has prioritized positive mental health and healthy child development in its efforts to focus more on health promotion and prevention rather than the treatment of illness.
The plan recognizes the importance of collaboration and partnership between individuals, families, schools, communities and across sectors of government to maintain the positive mental health of the population.
Strong support systems are necessary, as are environments that foster healthy living and encourage wellness of the mind, body and spirit. A positive school environment is essential to helping children live healthy lives, and teaching them the value of mental health.
Positive mental health can be fostered in children by teaching them social and emotional skills at school.
Social and emotional skills include the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and the emotions of others; positive peer relations; and interpersonal problem solving skills.
In learning these skills, children develop compassion, self-awareness and an improved capacity to deal with stress, frustration and anxiety.
Their emotional well-being is increased and they are better equipped to take on life’s challenges, making them less likely to suffer from depression or other forms of mental illness.
Including social and emotional learning in school curricula, especially at the elementary school level, is a low-cost, preventative measure we can take to improve the health of our children, with a high return on investment.
It increases their academic performance.
It reduces the risk of criminal activity.
It creates a sense of empowerment and belonging, as children know how to build and maintain healthy relationships and can grow into compassionate, active members of their communities.
In light of International Education Week, let’s consider the opportunity we have to improve our education system, strengthen our communities and set up our children for success throughout their lives.
Our government has made a commitment to wellness, and it is time to bring positive mental health education into our schools.
Our communities will reap the benefits for years to come.
George W. Skinner is executive director
of the Canadian Mental Health
Association — NL Division.