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Mental health in elementary schools
Promotion and prevention programs
by Julie Denoncourt (03/10/2010)
Several mental health problems begin at an early age, influencing mental health throughout adulthood. Many experts working in mental health prevention and promotion maintain that school is the best place to implement programs promoting mental health. It is a place where children spend a considerable amount of time, making it easy to reach all children, including those living in vulnerable conditions. Since the 90s, there has been a significant increase in the number of mental health promotion and prevention (MHPP) programs and interventions in schools. Scientific research has shown the effective impact such programs have on children.
A large number of MHPP programs are taking place in schools from kindergarten to high school. Some focus on all children (general population), while others target children who are more vulnerable (at-risk population). Generally, these programs have specific goals aimed at preventing a particular problem such as drug addiction, aggression, school violence or difficulties in romantic relationships. Others have broader goals such as improving problem-solving skills, empathy, self-esteem, social-emotional development and children's coping skills.
MHPP programs in schools rely on a variety of methods and resources. Teachers or others associated with the school (psychoeducators, special education teachers, CSSS social workers, etc.) practice some of the programs either in the classroom or within the school. MHPP programs can be distinguished by their duration, intensity, themes, strategies used during activities and desired changes (knowledge, attitudes, behaviour, school environment etc.).
Despite the growing interest in implementing MHPP programs in schools, one of the challenges we will face in the upcoming years is ensuring that the programs implemented have undergone strict scientific assessments.