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A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

Youth Mental Health

The issue

As BC teachers occupy a critical front line role in preventative mental health education, initial identification, and ongoing school-based support, they require considerable knowledge and resources to effectively teach and care for children and adolescents with mental health challenges.

A recent survey of 30,000 BC youth indicates that after peers (73%) and family (69%), students are most likely to approach a teacher (41%), school counsellor (27%), or other school staff member (16%) for help with a mental health concern.9

According to Kutcher, schools are “an ideal place to begin the work of addressing mental health” because they can:

  1. pro-actively promote mental wellness
  2. be sites for early identification
  3. have educated personnel who recognize and intervene on behalf of students
  4. serve as sites for mental health care delivery if working in an integrated way between classroom teachers and mental health specialists.10


As many as 12.6% of Canadian children and youth aged 4–17 years—or nearly 84,000 in BC—are likely experiencing clinically significant mental disorders at any given time.11

Young people from additionally marginalized groups (e.g., Aboriginal and LGBTQ youth), unstable home situations, physically or sexually abusive environments, and those with chronic illness or disability, face higher than average rates of mental illness.12

In addition, there is a strong correlation between poverty and youth mental illness13, and BC’s child poverty rate (19.8%) is the fifth highest of Canada’s 10 provinces.14

Only one-third of BC youth with identified mental health concerns are estimated to be receiving specialized services because of systemic underfunding and service shortfalls, as well as cultural stigma, geographic constraints, and economic barriers.15 Socio-economic inequities and long-term fiscal austerity in mental health funding and school resources has produced seriously detrimental consequences for BC’s youth population.

Within this context of chronic underfunding of public health and education systems, BC’s teachers, counsellors, and specialist educators have been left to manage the impacts of students’ mental health concerns with inadequate information and staffing, and delayed specialist/clinical intervention and referral processes.

Key recommendations

The following six recommendations are more fully detailed in Addressing youth mental health issues in BC’s K–12 public schools: A BCTF submission. A brief to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth (BCTF, 2015).

Recommendation 1

Support efforts to build positive and pre-emptive approaches to the mental health of children and youth.

Recommendation 2

Address the serious children/youth mental health issues by ensuring mental health services are accessible in schools.

Recommendation 3

Establish a commission to initiate and co-ordinate province-wide mental health approaches and resource development in K–12 public schools.

Recommendation 4

Provide a grant to the BC Teachers’ Federation to support its Teaching to Diversity online resource.

Recommendation 5

Increase the number of school counsellors and other specialist support teachers to address students’ mental health issues.

Recommendation 6

Address the mental health needs of youth who are often additionally marginalized.

Further reading

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. (2015). Addressing youth mental health issues in BC’s K-12 public schools: A BCTF submission. A brief to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth.

Canadian Teachers’ Federation. (2012). Understanding teachers’ perspectives on student mental health: findings from a national survey. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Lipman, E., & Boyle, M. (2008). Linking poverty and mental health: A lifespan view. Ottawa, ON: Provincial Centre for Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO.

McCreary Centre Society. (2016). Unspoken thoughts & hidden facts: A snapshot of BC youth’s mental health. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society. 

Select Standing Committee on Youth. (2016). Final report: Child and youth mental health in British Columbia—concrete actions for systemic change. Victoria, BC: Legislative Assembly, Province of British Columbia.

Smith, A., et al. (2011). Making the right connections: Promoting positive mental health among BC youth. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.

Statistics Canada. (2015).  Family characteristics, Low Income Measures (LIM), by family type and family type composition. Table F-18. Family Data. CANSIM Table 111-0015.

Tourand, J., et al. (2016). Raven’s children IV: Aboriginal youth health in BC. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.

Waddell, C., Shepherd, C., Schwartz, C., & Barican, J. (2014). Child and youth mental disorders: Prevalence and evidence-based interventions (A research report for the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development). Vancouver: Children’s Health Policy Centre, SFU.

9 McCreary Centre Society, 2016, p. 66.

10 Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 2012, p. 6.

11 Waddell et al., 2014, p. 2.

12 Tourand et al., 2016; Smith et al., 2011.

13 Lipman & Boyle, 2008.

14 Statistics Canada, 2015.

15 Waddell et al., 2014, p. 2.

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