OAMHP People for Education Response

OAMHP Supports People for Education’s Distressing Report about Ontario Students’ Mental Health

March 6, 2023

On February 27, People for Education (PFE) released the article, “Principals sound the alarm about students’ mental health”, confirming what we have known for the past two years and what our members have experienced first-hand: that Ontario’s children are suffering because of the lack of in-person mental health supports in schools. Furthermore, mental health and well-being is the clear top priority of school principals across the province. The work of PFE also highlights concerns that OAMHP has long been focused on 

The pandemic has significantly exacerbated child and youth mental health struggles

The pandemic has significantly exacerbated child and youth mental health struggles. Statistics in Canada have shown for well over a decade that our youth are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. Youth Mental Health Canada reports that 20% of our youth suffer from mental health issues and that hospitalizations and hospital visits have increased by at least 60% over the past decade. These statistics alone were disconcerting for mental health professionals.

However, more alarming was the noted decline in access to needed services even before the pandemic. The data presented in the report confirm that this decline has accelerated through the pandemic and that the situation is now most precarious. We simply cannot and must not fail Ontario’s children. 

Psychological Associates* and Psychologists are essential supports in school mental health

The report highlights the role of School Psychologists. It is crucial to recognize that Psychological Associates, as well as many other mental health providers (such as School Social Workers and supervised psychometrists) are a vital contingent of the mental health professionals who are providing psychological services in schools.

For years, there have consistently been unfilled vacancies in school board psychology positions - roles which regulated Psychological Associates and Psychologists can fill. In order to broaden access to support in schools, it may also be time to expand recruitment criteria and practices to include Registered Psychotherapists. 

Health human resources is a major challenge, but not the only one

While recruitment and retention initiatives like emergency registration of regulated health professionals may in part enhance the pool of available mental health professionals, many barriers remain that prevent mental health professionals from practicing to the fullest of their abilities and contributing to organizations that provide mental health care (e.g., punitive financial barriers, regulatory threats to practicing, and biases towards specific types of mental health professionals).  

A coherent approach is needed

Resolving this crisis is not just about how much we invest but also about how we invest in mental health and how everyone works together for the benefit of Ontario’s children and youth. School-based mental health supports must complement and coordinate with community-based services and hospital-provided care. Those providing mental health care in private practice settings must also have a place at the table to ensure a coherent approach that unlocks all the resources available. 

We applaud People for Education for this timely article, and for continuing to shine a spotlight on this crisis. We hope that People for Education will support the additional related concerns and suggestions raised herein. We are confident that, with the hard-won lessons of the pandemic, we can work together to resolve this crisis and ensure Ontario’s children and youth can recover from the trauma they have experienced from the pandemic. 

*The term “Psychologist” in this text refers both to doctoral-level Psychologists and masters-level “Psychological Associates”. For information on the extensive training required to become a registered Psychologist or Psychological Associate, please see: https://cpo.on.ca/resources/faqs/

For more information:

Maryann Istiloglu, Executive Director OAMHP mistiloglu@oamhp.ca 

Liana Palmerio-McIvor, RP, (cert-S) OAMHP, President, OAMHP  president@oamhp.ca 

Caroline Koekkoek, M.A. C.Psych, Board Member, OAMHP; former President of Ontario Association of Psychological Associates