Over 90% of Ontario schools say support is needed for students’ mental health: survey

People for Education released its Annual Ontario School Survey on Monday which says the percentage of schools with no access to psychologists has doubled in the last 10 years. (Courtesy: Canva)

A whopping 91 per cent of Ontario schools report they need mental health support for their students, according to a new survey. 

Not-for-profit group People for Education released its Annual Ontario School Survey on Monday and outlined responses from 1,044 school principals across all of the province’s 72 publicly funded boards.

The report says the percentage of schools with no access to psychologists has doubled in the last 10 years, and that principals say their schools are not sufficiently supported to help students cope after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Only nine per cent of schools say they have regularly scheduled access to a mental health/addiction specialist or nurse, and 46 per cent of schools report no access at all.

Meanwhile, 28 per cent of elementary and secondary schools report they have no access to a psychologist, either virtually or in-person, nearly double the percentage with no access in 2011.

In addition, 93 per cent of schools report needing support staff, including educational assistants, administrators and custodians.

“Mental health challenges among students, families and staff have significantly increased. Having, at minimum, a full-time (not once a week/once a month) social worker and psychologist available at all schools would be hugely beneficial. There is so much support required for students, families, and staff,” an anonymous survey respondent said in the report. 

The survey also notes that geography plays a huge role in a school’s level of access to staff who can provide support for their students’ mental health. 

Only seven per cent of principals in central Ontario reported having regularly scheduled mental health professionals in schools, while 46 per cent of schools in the GTA reported having regular access.

The report says principals also raised red flags about the mental health of their staff. 

“In many of their responses they said that both teaching and support staff were experiencing burnout, which was leading to an increase in staff mental health issues, then in turn led to increased absenteeism and increased pressure among remaining staff,” reads the report. 

The survey underlines an overall decline across the country in the mental health of young people between the ages of 12 and 17. In 2019, 73 per cent of 12-17-year olds described their mental health as very good or excellent, but in 2022 that number fell to 61 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. 

To address these concerning findings, principals outlined three key messages for the Ministry of Education:

  • Focus on funding human resources, especially support staff for mental health and well-being.
  • Increase access to family and community supports.
  • Recognize how difficult the pandemic has been on school communities.

The ministry says it has been committed to increasing mental health support for students since the Ford government came into office in 2018. 

“Since day one, our government has increased funding in mental health, now by over 400%, along with a 9% increase in regulated mental health professionals in the last two years alone,”  a ministry spokesperson said in an email statement. 

“Our government has funded the hiring of 7,000 additional education workers in our schools to better meet the needs of Ontario students, including the hiring of more social workers, and child and youth workers. We have invested $130 million in community based mental health services for children and youth and will continue to take action to support Ontario students.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, People for Education has recommended that the province establish a task force with participation from all education stakeholders to provide advice and expertise on next steps for Ontario’s students, educators, and school boards.

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