The Progressive Conservative government is launching an ambitious $6 million pilot project aimed at ending youth suicides in Mississauga within a decade.
Health Minister Christine Elliott, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and Children and Community Services Minister Todd Smith are to unveil the “Project Now” mental health plan Tuesday at the YMCA in Mississauga.
If the three-year pilot — announced to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day — is successful, it could be replicated across Ontario.
Queen’s Park is working with Peel Region, the Peel District School Board, Trillium Health Partners, the Peel Children’s Centre, and the Mississauga-Halton Local Health Integration Network and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board on the plan.
The province is investing $3 million and the project partners have so fair raised an additional $3 million in matching funds.
Conservative sources, speaking confidentially because the initiative has not been officially announced, said the hope is the funding will raise awareness about the problem of youth suicide and help families and communities support kids with mental health challenges.
To that end, Project Now will “provide education on evidence-based tools for teachers, police, families, and faith leaders” and “standardize child and youth suicide screening tools.”
As well, health-care professionals will receive training on “evidence-based interventions to prevent suicides.”
The government also wants to increase the use of “tele-psychiatry” and other mobile technology to reduce wait times for mental health services.
A recent report by Wisdom2Action, an advocacy group, and School Mental Health Ontario — which supports boards on student mental health and well-being initiatives — surveyed some 1,200 teens to find out what they wanted to learn about the issue.
About 80 per cent said they would like to know the warning signs for suicide and 83 per cent wanting to know “how to ask for help.”
Similarly, 78 per cent are seeking more information on the “early signs of common mental health problems.”
The report was based on four forums — held in Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Thunder Bay — as well as an online survey.
Almost all respondents — 97 per cent — said they needed better information on how to “cope with their thoughts and emotions,” how to best help friends struggling with mental health challenges,” as well as where to go for help.
“Students also noted the importance of developing social-emotional skills related to coping with transitions, stress, maintaining healthy relationships, staying optimistic and hopeful in the face of challenges, managing their emotions, and engaging in emotional self-care,” the report said.
Four-fifths of students who took part in the survey believe the classroom is the best place to get such information; just 39 per cent said online workshops would be helpful and 32 per cent like the idea of in-school group talks.
“Students also suggested that students can help with promoting self-care practices at school and highlighted how important it was to set a tone where social and emotional wellness is prioritized,” the report says, adding “ they noted that they need greater support for mental health clubs, events, and other initiatives, so that good ideas can spread and take hold.”
Ontario’s updated health and physical education curriculum, unveiled last month by Lecce, includes more discussion of mental health, starting in the primary years.
The education minister, who has emphasized student well-being is a priority, has said the issue hits close to him, as members of his own family have struggled with mental health and addiction issues.
At the end of this month, School Mental Health Ontario is launching a free online course for elementary teachers called “mental health in action,” designed to provide them with an understanding of students’ mental health needs.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy