Council of the Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory
Ontario Certified Teachers (OCTs) support students’ mental health. The responsibility exists in the profession’s ethics and lives in its practices. It resides in the intentions of individual practitioners and in the collective duties of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. It entails knowing how to recognize and address signs of mental illness, understanding where to turn for help, and working to avoid stigmatization while promoting wellness. The stigmas, ideas, pre-conceived notions, and understanding of mental health differs across families and cultures.
For the purposes of this advisory, the College has adopted the Public Health Agency of Canada’s definition of positive mental health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face.” Mental health encapsulates one’s ability to manage thoughts, feelings and behaviour, making it possible to set and achieve goals, create and keep relationships, adapt to and cope with stress and sadness, and feel happiness.
Mental illness is more than feeling stressed or unwell. It is “a disturbance of brain function characterized by difficulties in thinking, mood, behaviour, perception, physical functioning and/or signaling mechanisms (or some combination thereof) [that] help us decide what to do day by day. They are diagnosed using internationally recognized criteria that lead to significant impairments in day-to-day living (work, home, social)”.1
This advisory aims to help OCTs enhance their professional knowledge and practice with respect to understanding how to support students’ mental health.
Teachers’ instructional roles enable them to observe students closely. They are often the first to see changes in student behaviour. In the scope of their practice as an OCT, educators cannot diagnose ailments or propose treatment. Educators can, through awareness, understanding, experience and initiative, keep learning environments functional, inclusive, safe and welcoming to enable learning to occur and students to excel.
This advisory will help you to use your professional judgment to identify and avoid potential risks.