Understanding, Experience, and Equity

Caring Minds (Grades 7-12) > Understanding, Experiencing and Equity

Unit I Understanding, Experiencing and Equity

The shift from institutional to community care has brought mental health into our daily lives. However, this change has not reduced the stigma that surrounds mental health. Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are often responses to diagnoses such as depression or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), perpetuating a cycle of ignorance, exclusion and other negative reactions.
This lesson takes learners across cultures and history to consider the shifting contours of what is and has been regarded as “normal” mental health, and reflects on stigma and discrimination. We begin with an exploration of health and mental health, focusing on both experience and coping strategies. Some results are presented from recent youth mental health surveys. We then turn to a discussion of the stigma and prejudice often attached to mental health conditions in our society and consider ways of combating these negative responses.


By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • Define health and mental health – what is it? What does it look like?
  • Consider how definitions of mental health have changed over time and how understandings of mental health are also shaped by culture
  • Examine recent youth survey results related to mental health
  • Describe the complex nature of mental health and how it affects everyone
  • Discuss stereotypes/discrimination/stigma associated with mental health – where do they come from? What is their impact?
  • Understand diverse experiences of mental health concerns

Background for Teachers

Mental health issues are in the forefront of our communities, and are part of the daily lives of our youth. Like all of us, young people see and interact with people with mental health conditions in public spaces. They also encounter mental health difficulties in their personal lives as they deal with anxiety, depression and dementia in their peer groups and families. Yet for all this exposure, the stigmatization that surrounds mental health continues, and is increasingly recognized as a critical issue by health care providers. Looking at history and other cultures provides a useful illustration of the malleability of the concept of “normal.”

Health workers and researchers say that mental health stigma has resulted in people not seeking help. From a psychiatric survivor/consumer perspective, however, a focus on professional help and treatment can sometimes be problematic, fostering a role for the mental health patient as a victim who lacks personal agency. Psychiatric survivor/consumer groups and activists promote non-professional notions of mental well-being and emphasize personal and collective empowerment through the identification of self needs and peer support. In both cases, education to increase awareness and acceptance is widely recommended as an important strategy in addressing mental health issues among youth and the wider community.

Curricular Planning

Potential Areas of British Columbia’s School Curricula Covered by this Unit
Health & Career Education
8 and 9
Civic Studies
Family Studies
10 to 12
Social Justice
Potential Areas of Ontario’s School Curricula Covered by this Unit
Canadian & International Law
Introductory Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology
Challenge & Change Social Studies