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Geoff Johnson: Our educators need mental-health literacy more than ever

A report from the Canadian Mental Health Association that up to 20 per cent — or one in five — of young Canadians in 2019 are affected by a mental illness or disorder is obviously troubling, especially to those, teachers and others, who work with kid
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Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream made it clear that teenage relationships have also become more complicated, Geoff Johnson writes.

A report from the Canadian Mental Health Association that up to 20 per cent — or one in five — of young Canadians in 2019 are affected by a mental illness or disorder is obviously troubling, especially to those, teachers and others, who work with kids every day.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are now common for this age group.

The CMHA estimates that about five per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women between 12 and 19 have experienced severe depression.

In the Global TV series Tortured Mind, researchers reported that a growing number of Canadian kids are grappling with mental-health concerns but aren’t receiving treatment for their symptoms. The onus, say the researchers, for awareness and outreach falls on college campuses, pediatric practices and high schools to change the landscape.

“These trends support a renewed focus on outreach, early detection and intervention for depression in young people,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Mark Olfson, told Global News.

Educationally, according to Children’s Mental Health, a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Health, untreated mental-health issues cause poor academic achievement, missed classes and higher dropout rates.

Compared with the challenges kids face today, growing up as my generation did in the late ’50s and early ’60s was a relatively straightforward process.

Our social activities and circle of friends were immediate: school, surfing buddies who met at the beach in the late afternoon and on weekends, maybe a movie on Saturday night with a girlfriend.

My social and information access did not include collective online mental minefields such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, My Life, Tumblr or Hub Culture plus all the other “social” websites.

Mainstream television was launched in September 1956, but did not include a constant barrage of daily “news analysis” about political corruption, crime, violence and calamities locally and around the world.

No doubt much of that was going on at the time, but we were not faced with it every day, and ignorance was bliss.

The songs we listened to reflected the relative simplicity of our lifestyle, and our initial fumbling explorations into personal relationships were pretty much defined when in 1963 the Beatles sang:

Oh yeah I tell you somethin’

I think you’ll understand

When I say that somethin’

I want to hold your hand

But things have changed, and Katy Perry’s 2010 album Teenage Dream made it clear that teenage relationships have also become more complicated;

We drove to Cali

And got drunk on the beach

Got a motel and

Let’s go all the way tonight

No regrets, just love.

If all this sounds as if my generation’s recollection of adolescence is now being viewed through the naiveté of rose-coloured glasses, fair enough, but consider, as another example — music videos from 1981 to 2019.

On Aug. 1, 1981, MTV, the first 24-hour music video channel, began broadcasting.

The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Michael Jackson and Guns’n’Roses were significant musicians featured on MTV.

By 2019, the visuals and the music have changed. Women and men are portrayed differently and my generation, especially those of who work with kids every day, are troubled by how graphic and sexually explicit some of these videos are.

Although Rihanna’s S&M clip hardly featured any nudity, it did in fact contain scenes of sexual bondage, dominance and sadomasochism.

The highly sexualized video was even restricted by YouTube and was banned in 11 countries.

Can any of this really affect the way some teenagers view life and the requirements of “growing up”?

Research results on the topic of media influence on adolescent behaviour are mixed. One study shows, for example, that watching violent media renders us less empathetic to the suffering of others, but not that lack of concern for others necessarily makes us more violent.

The School-Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Consortium is a 40-member team of leading researchers, practitioners and mobilizers involved in school mental health in Canada.

There is, according to a 2013 report from the consortium, sufficient research evidence in the area of mental health in schools to require policy-and-practice directions in Canada.

Included in recommendations arising out of the 2013 report is an increase in systematic professional learning in mental-health opportunities for educators, parents, and students — in other words, developing more effective educator mental-health literacy.

Yep, times have changed for adolescents since Sam Cooke sang in the ’60s: “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much about Biology … but I do know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be.”

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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