By Seher Shafiq, Parent Action on Drugs
On October 7th, 2014, the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre held a webinar to launch the latest version of the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion: Children and Youth. The Guidelines were launched by CAMH, Toronto Public Health, and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. With four presenters representing each of the three organizations, the webinar was a rich discussion involving knowledge exchange and new ideas.
Marianne Kobus-Matthews, a Senior Health Promotion Consultant at CAMH's Provincial System Support Program started the webinar by discussing the history behind the Guidelines. In 2003 a report called the Analysis of Best Practices in Mental Health Promotion across the Lifespan was commissioned. Over the years, the project got narrowed to children and youth, because it was seen that most studies with a lot of evidence focused on children (7—12) and youth (13-19). In 2007, the online tool Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion was launched. Now in 2014, many developments show the momentum of mental health promotion:
For example, there now exist national and provincial mental health strategies that focus on the mental health of children and youth. This meant that 2014 was a good year to refresh the guide and include new literature that has emerged since 2007. The goal of the Guidelines is to eliminate risk factors and promote resiliency. Practitioners are also encouraged to take a modified approach that considers social determinants of health.
Marianne discussed how youth that belong to groups that face social and economic exclusion (such as Aboriginals, LBGTQ youth, newcomer youth, and street-involved youth) have greater problems when it comes to health. She highlighted that resources in the guidelines include a worksheet that asks an organization questions based on the Guidelines. This includes a checklist of actions that can be taken to ensure your organization follows the Guidelines as much as possible. Marianne also mentioned that the guide has outcomes and indicators to help your organization gauge the success of an initiative.
Suzanne Jackson, an Associate Professor in the Health Promotion Program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (University of Toronto) spoke next about the evidence base of the Guidelines. She highlighted the relevance of risk factors and protective factors, such as optimism, attachment to school or work, family harmony, etc, noting that the presence of more protective factors over risk factors lowers the risk of mental illness. We should therefore be pushing protective factors, she argued. Suzanne also went into the literature that helped provide the evidence and information to inform the Guidelines. For example, Keleher & Armstrong, 2006 have concluded that the most significant determinants of mental health are: social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence, and access to economic resources. She discussed the criteria for best practice program examples, some of which are: identifying at least 5 guidelines, and having an evaluation tool.
The last presenters were Claudette Holloway (Toronto Public Health, Acting Director, Healthy Communities), and Patricia Stevens (Toronto Public Health, Health Promotion Specialist, Investing in Families). Investing in Families (IIF) is "an initiative designed to improve the economic, health and social status of families receiving Ontario Works benefits in several high-needs communities across Toronto". IIF provides families: employment related services, health services, computer/literacy/homework help, recreational activities, and opportunities to be socially involved in the community (1). Claudette and Patricia discussed how the IIF project began and expanded, how Toronto Public Health formed a partnership with CAMH, and where the project is at now. They also shared how their project follows the CAMH Guidelines, as well as lessons learned. One 'lesson learned' was through using phase III of the Worksheet in the Guidelines to develop a transparent and resilient approach to their project. Toronto Public Health strongly felt that the Guidelines and the Worksheet provided a systemic approach and a framework for mental health focus, as well as an ability to incorporate organizational thinking into their project.
Questions after the presentation included topics relating to social media, mental health in the LGBTTQ community, working with vulnerable populations, and other mental health promotion initiatives for children and youth.
Summary of guidelines
- Address and modify risk and protective factors, including determinants of health, that indicate possible mental health concerns
- Intervene in multiple settings
- Focus on skill building, empowerment, self-efficacy and resilience
- Train non-professionals to establish caring and trusting relationships with children and youth
- Involve multiple stakeholders
- Help develop comprehensive support systems
- Adopt multiple interventions
- Address opportunities for organizational change, policy development and advocacy
- Demonstrate a long-term commitment to program planning, development, and evaluation
- Ensure that information and services provided are cultural appropriate, equitable and holistic