October 1st marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week. But, what exactly is mental health and why does it need a special week?
Mental health is an important part of our overall health and well-being. In the same way we all experience physical health; we also all experience mental health. Positive mental health is when we feel, think, and act in ways that help us to enjoy life and cope with the challenges we face.
Mental Health or Mental Illness? What’s the difference?
Mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. Mental illness is when a person experiences significant distress and impaired functioning due to alterations in thinking, mood, or behaviour. Mental illnesses can include but is not limited to depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and problem gambling.
A person living with a mental illness can have good mental health while a person who does not have a mental illness may be having difficulty coping with day-to-day life and suffering from poor mental health.
We all know about the challenges adult learners face when settling in a new country and learning a new language – these stressors can affect an individual’s mental health. Some stress can be a good thing and motivate us to get things done; however, when stress becomes chronic, it can be a problem. The reality is that many people suffer in silence because they do not feel safe or comfortable talking about the issues they are experiencing and how they are feeling.
Open Up Conversation and Decrease Stigma
As an instructor, you have ongoing contact with your students and become someone to confide in as well as a trusted source of information. You can reduce stigma and open up communication lines by creating a space where students feel they can openly express their ideas and feelings without judgement, be heard, and get support.
Start by having a class discussion and asking students what mental health, stress, and mental illness means to them. This will help you to assess the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of your students.
Get students to talk about how stress affects their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They can then share strategies on how they relax and cope with stress. Determine if each action is a healthy behaviour that can promote positive mental health or an unhealthy behaviour which may cause poor mental health. This can be a good opportunity for students who want may wish to try learn about different coping skills that work for others.
Have students practice talking with their doctor about feeling stressed. Giving people the words to use may actually help them feel comfortable enough to reach out and get help.
Many people do not know where to go or who to call when experiencing poor mental health. Discussing services that are available in the community and providing students with this information can break some of the barriers to seeking help. For example, Connex Ontario (http://www.connexontario.ca/) provides information on local mental health services in over 170 languages.
Mental Health Awareness Week may be over, but the conversation shouldn’t be!
New Curriculum Resource
If you are you looking for user-friendly handouts for the activities above, we’ve got you covered!
We are very excited to launch our new “Promoting Health Information with Adult Language Learners” curriculum. It includes background information for instructors and listening, speaking, writing and reading activities that have been rated according to the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB). The lesson plans span from CLB 1-6. Topics include mental health promotion, diabetes prevention, and more!
You can download the entire curriculum here:
If you teach in the City of Toronto, Public Health Nurses are available to support you to integrate the lesson plans into the classroom and to work with your school community to create an environment where healthier choices are easier to make. Please contact Toronto Public Health (416 338 7600) or firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with a Public Health Nurse.
Meet with Us at the Conference!
We will also be hosting a session on Strategies to Promote Health with Newcomers at the upcoming TESL conference in November (http://www.teslontario.org/conference/) – hope to see you there!