Comprehensive School Health Interdisciplinary Research
According to the WHO, schools are the most cost-effective venue for impacting both education and health of children. In Canada, prevalence rates of children and youth experiencing mental health difficulties, including mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, are estimated to be at approximately 15% to 20% (Vaillancourt & Boylan, 2010). There are many ways for schools to partner or collaborate with other professionals and organizations to develop interventions for students struggling with mental health difficulties and illness. In Ontario schools, however, as in most schools across the country, the greatest role played in relation to mental health services is in the prevention of mental health problems and the development of protective factors. In other words, giving students the tools they need to navigate relationships, cope with stress, manage emotions, problem-solve, and make safe choices. Although not always labeled as mental health programs, initiatives and curriculum that develop these types of skills contribute to positive psychosocial outcomes for children and youth (e.g. Shochet et al., 2001; Wolfe et al., 2009).
The Canadian Health Measures Survey is the first nationally representative study that objectively measured the health of Canadians. The first report on the fitness of Canadian children (Tremblay et al., 2010) demonstrates a disturbing trend in the fitness of the nation. These data show that fitness levels have declined significantly and meaningfully since 1981, regardless of age or sex. The data also indicates that both girls and boys are heavier, taller and have bigger waist circumferences than their counterparts from 1981. In fact, across developed countries, Canada ranks 4th on the percentage of individuals who are overweight and obese. The decreases in physical fitness and the increases in overweight status will have significant physical and mental health implications for these children across the lifespan.
In Ontario, recent initiatives and policies have highlighted a holistic view of student health that includes both physical and mental health. The Ministries of Children and Youth Services, Health Promotion, and Education have collaborated on documents such as Foundations for a Healthy School (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014) that suggest ways for schools to support the well-being of students by focusing on healthy eating, physical activity, bullying prevention, healthy growth, substance use/abuse, and mental health. Mandated practices such as Daily Physical Activity and the revised Health and Physical Education curriculum are two vehicles for health promotion in Ontario schools. While recommended for all schools, little research or practical evidence exists to allow for an evaluation of the efficacy of these and other health promoting measures on student and staff outcomes.