Author: José F. Domene, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary
As we begin a new school year, it is important to recognize that many school-aged children and youth in Canada experience stressors and life circumstances that can have a deleterious effect on their mental health. The effects of COVID-19 on these young people’s education and social lives over the past two years has only exacerbated this situation (Valliancourt et al., 2021). Given the connections between school success and mental health, as well as the role schools play in fostering social-emotional development, schools are the ideal setting to promote students’ mental health (Kutcher & Wei, 2020). Research conducted by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation reveals that teachers recognize students’ mental health needs, but also identify a range of barriers and gaps in supporting students’ mental health (Froese-Germain, & Riel, 2012). Given this need to address mental health across the student body, especially in a covid context, it is unlikely that specialized mental health services (e.g., school counsellors) will be sufficient to meet all students’ needs.
Our team of researchers at Connecting Career Development and Mental Health for Youth (CCDMHY) propose an alternative approach: We recommend leveraging career education as a way to broadly promote the mental health of all school-aged young people, which should free up specialized mental health services to work with those specific individuals who are most in need. This recommendation is grounded in a growing body of scholarly thinking and research evidence indicating there are reciprocal connections between mental health and career development; that is, mental health and career development influence each other (e.g., Hudson-Breen & Lawrence, 2021; Redekopp & Huston, 2019).
An important implication of this idea that career development and mental health influence each other is that, when students feel hopeless about their future, this can decrease their mental health, and when their mental health is decreased due to any number of life circumstances, this can negatively affect their career development. Conversely, providing career education that helps students to envision and experience hope about their future will improve their mental health and this, in turn, can positively influence their ongoing career development. Here at the CCDMHY project, we are working on a way of providing career education in schools that is designed have a positive impact on the career development <-> mental health cycle, and we look forward to building the evidence for its benefits in the upcoming year.
Froese-Germain, B. & Riel, R. (2012). Understanding Teachers’ Perspectives on Student Mental Health: Findings from a National Survey. Ottawa, ON.