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The term “mental health” is often used with different meanings. Mental health is more than the absence of a mental illness. Mental health is a state of well-being where a person can realize their abilities, cope with the stresses of life, and has the ability to work productively and make a contribution to their community (WHO, 2014).

According to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (2017), close to 81% of Ontario students in grade 7-12 report that they have good or excellent mental health. Positive mental health (PMH) is the capacity to feel, think, and act in ways that increase our ability to enjoy life, realize our own potential, deal with challenges, and contribute to society (Joint Consortium for School Health, 2016b).  Schools have an important job to play in developing environments that assist and build students’ ability to succeed and thrive, and where they can experience hope even when they are also being positively challenged.

To better understand positive mental health, the below image shows the continuum model of mental health and mental illness. As it shows, it is possible to have high levels of mental health while having a mental illness, and is also possible to have poor mental health without a specific mental illness. For example, someone may not be able to manage their emotions, feel unable to manage their daily tasks, or struggle to make decisions – all factors which can lead to negative mental health – but not have a mental illness.

Dual Continuum Model of
Mental Health and Mental Illness

Untitled-1Optimal mentalhealth withmental illnessOptimal mentalhealth withoutmental illnessPoor mentalhealth withmental illnessPoor mentalhealth withoutmental illnessOptimal mental health(”flourishing”)Poor mental health(”languishing”)No mental illnesssymptomsSerious mentalillness

There are five (5) components to positive mental health.

  1. The ability to enjoy life
  • Related to happiness, satisfaction with life and wellbeing.
  • Relationships, personal characteristics and perspectives, life circumstances, and social environments all impact life enjoyment.
  1. The ability to deal with life’s challenges
  • Coping responses, finding meaning and purpose, adapting to new circumstances, and collaborating with others
  • This component builds on resilience
  1. Emotional well-being
  • The ability to recognize and assess our feelings, and also to understand other people’s feelings
  • Have the skills to manage and communicate emotions to get along well with others, and respect yourself
  1. Spiritual well-being
  • A feeling of connection with specific beliefs, values, or faith, which does not have to be tied to religion
  1. Equity, cultural respect, and dignity within social environments
  • Feeling free to pursue goals and make your own choices
  • Quality of social connections and social environments and the extent to which they promote equity, respect for cultures, social justice, and personal dignity

(Public Health Agency of Canada, 2006).

Positive mental health is also associated with resilience, which is the ability to handle life’s problems and challenges. Resilience is our ability to “bounce back” from difficult challenges. Resilience is something that can be taught and developed, and is an important skill for students’ learning. For more information on resiliency click here.

Positive mental health in schools has been linked to positive outcomes in children and youth, particularly when schools implement positive mental health concepts and practices. Some outcomes include:

  • Academic success
  • Development of positive and safe relationships
  • Increased participation in recreational activities
  • Skills to manage emotions
  • Age-appropriate autonomy and choice making 
  • Fewer behavioural issues
  • Positive social attitudes and behaviours
  • Healthy lifestyle behaviours

(Joint Consortium for School Health, 2016a)

In Windsor-Essex County, 76% of high school students rate their mental health as good, very good, or excellent (COMPASS, 2018). With this number in mind, it is important to consider how classrooms and school environments can support and facilitate positive mental health for their students to keep these students mentally healthy and try to improve it.

Schools are an important setting for students of all ages. Students who have positive physical and emotional health are more likely to experience success.  Schools play a large role in influencing outcomes for children and youth given the powerful influence that teacher support and peer networks have within the educational setting.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the following are some suggested ways that schools can look to promote PMH to students:

  • Promoting active living (health and physical education classes, sports teams and intramural activities, daily physical activity in classrooms)
  • Teaching children and youth about healthy eating
  • Providing healthy eating options
  • Teaching coping skills, such as self-awareness and stress management
  • Promoting positive self-esteem
  • Creating an open environment for talking about their problems and questions
  • Providing spaces for relaxation, such as a lounge and quiet corners within classrooms
  • Displaying and sharing information for children, youth, and families
  • Implementing and supporting policies for safe and accepting schools, including bullying prevention and intervention policies

(Canadian Mental Health Association, n.d.)

Where can I get more information?

Windsor Essex County Health Unit-

Contact your public health nurse at 519-258-2146 ext. 1555 to discuss developing a positive mental health strategy for your classroom and school community.

Canadian Mental Health Association

Joint Consortium for School Health:

Supporting Minds- Ministry of Education

Children’s Mental Health Ontario

Teen Mental Health

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Last modified: 
Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 4:18pm