In Saskatchewan, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) education is a shared responsibility between the Ministry of Education, under the authority of the Minister of Education, and locally elected boards of education.
There are 27 school divisions in Saskatchewan, including public school divisions, separate school divisions, and the francophone school division.
Case Study Highlights
Started the Training: Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) pilot training occurred during the Government of Saskatchewan’s 2016-17 fiscal year (in winter 2017). Training associated with the 2020-21 MHFA provincial training initiative (i.e., with the goal of having at least one staff member trained in MHFA in each school throughout Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions) commenced in fall 2021.
Participants trained as a result of the 2020-21 MHFA Provincial Training Initiative (course of focus: MHFA Supporting Youth virtual course): As of June 2022, 926 staff completed training; and, 733 out of 736 schools have at least one individual trained in MHFA.
The Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan in Saskatchewan
On December 1, 2014, Dr. Fern Stockdale Winder, Commissioner of the Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan in Saskatchewan, submitted her report to the government, Working Together for Change: A 10-Year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan for Saskatchewan.
The Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan called for a more coordinated and timely response to people in need of mental health and addictions services. It also recommended improvements to how the province of Saskatchewan responds to people with mental health and addictions issues.
A system goal and recommendation of this plan is to reduce stigma and increase awareness of mental health and addictions issues. A key action in this regard is to develop a public education and awareness program that helps people readily identify mental health and addictions issues and to make seeking help for these issues socially acceptable.
The Action Plan recognizes the effectiveness of the MHFA program: “An example of an awareness and education tool is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), an international program, active in over 20 countries with proven effectiveness in familiarizing participants with basic mental health information. Individuals who are trained in MHFA have significantly greater recognition and understanding of the most common mental health problems; have decreased social distance from people with mental health problems; and have increased confidence in providing help to others. An advantage of MHFA is that anyone, anywhere can be trained in the approach.”
The Beginnings – MHFA Training in Saskatchewan’s Education Sector
Responding to recommendations outlined in the Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan, the Ministry of Education offered individual grant funding to school divisions so they could train their staff in MHFA during the Government of Saskatchewan’s 2017-18 fiscal year. An MHFA training pilot occurred in winter 2017. All school divisions were informed that they had the opportunity to access funding.
During the first year of grant funding, school divisions participated in MHFA training. Three versions of the course were offered: MHFA: Adults who Interact with Youth; MHFA: First Nations; and MHFA Basic. Because MHFA training capacity was built within Saskatchewan’s health sector prior to the MHFA training pilot in the education sector, several MHFA facilitators were accessed through local health authorities to deliver the course-based training.
In subsequent years, the Ministry of Education’s annual grants supported MHFA and additional training opportunities including:
- Violence Threat Risk Assessment training;
- Traumatic Event Systems training;
- Applied Suicide Intervention Skills training; and
- other Ministry of Education-approved training opportunities.
At Least One Staff Trained in MHFA in Each School Throughout Saskatchewan’s 27 School Divisions
In December 2020, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a $400,000 commitment to provide MHFA training to at least one staff member in each Saskatchewan school. At the time of this funding announcement, Education Minister Dustin Duncan said: “Our goal is to have at least one staff member in each school receive Mental Health First Aid training by December 2021.” This would make MHFA available to students when needed, similar to physical first aid. Minister Duncan continued, “We are excited to support schools in ensuring students have access to mental health resources, and I encourage all provincial school divisions to take part to help remove the stigma around mental health.”
This ambitious goal resonated with the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) team that would be supporting the delivery of the courses. Louise Bradley, CEO of the MHCC at the time, remarked, “We commend the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education for its timely investment and commitment to providing Mental Health First Aid training for each of the province’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools.”
Leadership from both the ministry and MHCC paved the way for a great collaboration between both operational teams. Delivering this training to 26 school divisions representing 733 schools (as of June 2022) required significant coordination. Moreover, delivering this training during the pandemic was especially challenging. However, 926 staff (as of June 2022) were able to attend more than 64 MHFA courses.
Thanks to these efforts, all school divisions within Saskatchewan have internally trained MHFAiders with specific knowledge to support youth when they need it. This successful collaboration demonstrates how an education sector can proactively take steps to prioritize mental health in a way that potentially has immediate impacts within local schools.
What the 2022-23 School Year Holds for MHFA Training in Saskatchewan
Presently, the Ministry of Education is working with the MHCC to provide additional training to participating school divisions in Saskatchewan – MHFA: Adults who Interact with Youth Facilitator and MHFA: First Nations Co-Facilitator. Training will occur in October 2022 with the goal of increasing MHFA facilitator capacity throughout Saskatchewan’s education sector. School divisions will also be able to access grants to support MHFA course-based/facilitator training and a menu of other Ministry of Education-approved training opportunities.
The Government of Saskatchewan continues its journey of capacity building in areas related to mental health and student safety throughout the province’s education sector. Similar to having staff trained in basic first aid if someone were to hurt themselves on the playground, the Government of Saskatchewan recognizes the importance for staff to be able to assist in times of mental health crisis until professional help is available.