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The OPHA is a not‐for‐profit member‐based association that provides leadership in advancing public health in Ontario. Our Association represents six public and community health disciplines and our membership represents many public health and community health professionals from Ontario. To learn more about us, our structure, strategic direction, or membership, please visit the following links:

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The OPHA leads the development of expertise in public and community health through collaboration, consultation and partnerships. Learn more about our Constituent Societies here.

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Developing a comprehensive school program to prevent substance misuse and build resilience


Developing a comprehensive school program to prevent substance misuse and build resilience

Developing a comprehensive school program to prevent substance misuse and build resilience
January 30, 2018
The Mental Health, Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention (MHSMAP) Action Group of the Dufferin Coalition for Kids is developing a comprehensive school-based mental health literacy and substance-misuse prevention program that supports the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum for grade seven students. Although a number of school-based programs are already delivered to students in Dufferin, they are not offered universally, they cover topics in varying detail, and many of them are not evidence-based or evaluated. As such, community stakeholders, including local school boards, identified a need for a comprehensive, universal program in Dufferin.  

Data from the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Youth Survey was used to form base-line indicators of mental health and substance-misuse for grade seven and ten students in Dufferin.

In 2014-2015:
  • 41% of grade seven students reported having too many problems in their lives1 (stress)
  • 38% of grade ten students reported binge drinking within the last year.2

Many of the existing programs that are offered to students do not address both substance-use and mental health literacy. Research shows that the underlying success factors behind mental health, alcohol, and other substance misuse prevention programs are very similar. The most effective programs build personal and social skills, such as decision-making, and address social norms around mental health, alcohol, and substance use. These programs are aimed at enhancing resilience by increasing social and cognitive skills; for example, improving students’ skills for dealing with pressure and coping with stress.3, 4

The MHSMAP Action Group has committed to taking an evidence-informed approach to program planning. This process began with a comprehensive needs assessment that included:
  • A literature review of best practices for effective school-based substance-use prevention & mental health literacy programs
  • A survey and focus group with local teachers
  • A review of available data related to mental health outcomes and substance-misuse among youth in Dufferin
  • An environmental scan of in-school substance-use prevention and mental health literacy programs provided to students in Dufferin
The literature review identified the following essential elements for effective school-based programs: 
  • Framing content using a cognitive and social-skills based approach
  • Addressing social norms
  • Involving same-aged peer leaders and employing interactive techniques
  • Conducting on-going evaluation
  • Using a universal approach
  • Involving others (parents, teachers, and service providers)
  • Delivering the program across several sessions and/or years to reinforce concepts
The MHSMAP Action Group then considered the evidence gathered through the needs assessment process to identify three objectives for the program:
  1. Build students’ social and cognitive skills in the areas of decision-making, managing emotions, healthy relationships, and communication
  2. Address social norms and misconceptions related to alcohol, other substance-use and mental health
  3. Provide help-seeking and community resource information to students and teachers
MHSMAP has chosen grade seven as the target grade for this program because the content complements the curriculum in that grade and research demonstrates that children develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills rapidly during that time.As program development continues, the MHSMAP Action Group will actively engage teachers and students in this process. The program will then be piloted with a small group of grade seven classes in Dufferin County before it is deployed more widely and rigorously evaluated. Given the program’s alignment with the curriculum, the MHSMAP Action Group hopes that the end-result will be an effective program that is delivered to all grade seven students across all school-boards in Dufferin County.

If you have any questions, would like to be kept up to date on program development process, or have any ideas or insights to share, please reach out to Rebecca Brodmann (rebecca.brodmann@wdgpublichealth.ca) or Anna Vanderlaan (anna.vanderlaan@wdgpublichealth.ca).
 
References:
1 WDG Youth Survey, 2011-12 and 2014-15. WDG Report Card Coalition. Last updated July 27, 2016. http://www.wdgreportcard.com/en/data-portal/stress.aspx
2 WDG Youth Survey, 2011-12 and 2014-15. WDG Report Card Coalition. Last updated July 26, 2016. http://www.wdgreportcard.com/en/data-portal/substance-use.aspx
3 Stigler, M. H., Neusel, E., & Perry, C. L. (2011). School-based programs to prevent and reduce alcohol use among youth. Alcohol Research & Health, 34(2), 157-162.
4 School Mental Health ASSIST. (2015). School mental health decision support tool: Evidence-based mental health promotion programming. https://smh-assist.ca/blog/school-mental-health-decision-support-tool-evidence-based-mental-health-promotion-programming/
5 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. http://www.developing child.harvard.edu
 
 

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