UBC educates future teachers in mental health literacy

The University of British Columbia is improving mental health literacy among its teacher candidates, arming them with the knowledge and skills they need to act as an intervenor in the battle against teen mental illness.

Beginning September 2015, UBC’s bachelor of education program (BEd) will introduce a new online curriculum resource for future teachers on how to identify and talk about mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, in the classroom.

“Teachers are on the frontlines of mental health care for youth,” said Wendy Carr, associate dean in UBC’s Teacher Education Office. “We want our teacher candidates to feel prepared to start their careers with the skills they need to spot a student in crisis, better understand the mental health challenges facing young people and know where and how to find support.”

Currently at UBC, teacher candidates can take an elective course about mental health and human behaviour, but the new resource (which includes lesson plans, teaching ideas and instructional materials on how to best address mental health and mental illness) will now make mental health literacy an integrated component. The hope is that when these new teachers enter the classroom they will be well versed in the topic and able to identify students needing mental health support and services.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, an estimated 3.2 million Canadian youth aged 12 to 19 are at risk of experiencing depression, but only one in five youth who need help access mental health services. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Canadians aged 15 to 24, after accidents.

UBC, St. Francis Xavier University and the University of Western Ontario partnered with Dalhousie University’s Stan Kutcher (TeenMentalHealth.org) to develop the curriculum that will be implemented in some form at all three institutions.

“If we help teachers, students and families become literate in mental health, we can enhance and encourage proper diagnosis and a route to an effective treatment,” said Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry professor and teen mental health expert who started TeenMentalHealth.org. “The research is clear: introducing mental health literacy in the classroom produces positive outcomes and reduces the stigma surrounding mental illness.”


The new curriculum resource is occurring in conjunction with a related online resource in social and emotional learning developed by UBC education professor Shelley Hymel. Both resources will be introduced to teacher candidates in September 2015.

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