Lesson 2: Mental Health

Caring Minds (Grades 7-12) > Understanding, Experiencing and Equity > Lesson 2: Mental Health

Lesson 2: Mental Health

Starter: Famous and Crazy? (5-10 minutes)

  • Display list of famous people (RESOURCE 2A) and ask students to figure out what they all have in common. (answer: they all have been affected by mental health)
  • Explain and discuss with the students that everyone is affected by mental health issues. Have student raise their hands for the following:
    • Have you ever…been stressed, felt anxious, known someone who has been depressed for a short time?
  • Key Point: mental health affects everyone.
  • Today students are going to take with a closer look at what mental health is and what it is all about.

Discussion: Introduction to Mental Health (10 minutes)

  • Present the current definition of mental health and discuss it as a class.
    • Mental Health: A state of well-being in which a person is able to use his or her brain and heart, have relationships with family and friends, and function in the world of home, school and work.
  • Explain that there are certain things that can help us to stay healthy mentally and work through stress when it comes up (positive relationships, physical activity, sleep). Other things that can get in the way (drugs/alcohol, not having a permanent home, not getting enough sleep).
  • The factors that influence mental health are different for everyone. Some people deal with mental health issues on a daily basis; with others it is more short-term and it comes and goes. Most people experience stress or anxiety as temporary and are able to recover from it. For some it is an everyday event. A little bit of stress or anxiety is healthy and to be expected, however, when it is constant or overwhelming, it can become a problem.
  • A mental health problem becomes an illness or disorder when it interferes with daily functioning, when it gets in the way of everyday life. Health professionals can provide important help in assisting people, but many people with mental health difficulties also talk about the importance of figuring out what works for them and finding support through peer groups. Many people do not understand what is going on for themselves or other people. Information and education about mental health is key.

Activity 1: What is Mental Health? (20 minutes)

  • Divide the class into small groups and have each group discuss the definition and answer the following questions:
    • What is the difference between health and mental health?
    • What does mental health look like?
    • What is a state of emotional/psychological well being?
    • What does it mean to be able to function in society and meet the ordinary demands of life?
    • How does mental health affect relationships between family/friends?
    • How does it affect school/work?
  • Have the students share their answers with the class. Write answers on board or chart paper.
  • Discuss how mental health affects everyone and that it is a very important part of our overall health.
  • Other questions for discussion: Is health always easy to see or identify? When is it easy to see and when is it not? (e.g. broken arm vs stomach ache) Is lack of health or illness easy to identify? (e.g. having a cold or flu vs. being depressed or anxious)

Activity 2: Recent Youth Survey Results (30-40 minutes)

  • Present recent youth mental health survey results:
      • The McCreary Societyis a non-profit organization focusing on the health and well-being of young people in British Columbia.
        • In the latest youth survey that the McCreary Society did, most youth reported feeling some stress or pressure in the past 30 days (84%)
        • 8% of BC students surveyed felt seriously emotionally distressed
        • 14% of youth in 1998 and 2003 reported that the stress in their lives was almost more than they could take
      • Healthy Youth in a Health Society Survey: A community university alliance for the prevention of injuries in children and youth was an interdisciplinary research project funded through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) “Community Alliance for Health Research” program. The Healthy Youth study joined teams of university-based researcher from several disciplines with interested members of the non-university community to look at youth health from several aspects – the Healthy Youth Survey was one of these “target projects”, conducting research on Victoria youth in 2003, 2005, and again in 2007.
      • Below is a summary of results from the 2005 survey. Altogether, 580 young people aged 14 to 21 completed this survey; 47% were male and 53% were female. Discussion question are included among the items. Data “pie charts” that provide a visual representation of the results for several items are found in RESOURCE 2B 
        • “Cheerful mood”: Two thirds of the youth in this survey sample said they generally had a cheerful mood. Almost a third said they sometimes had a cheerful mood; only about 1% said never. Ask: What does it mean to you to “have a cheerful mood”? What does it “look like”? How do these results compare to your experience and that of your friends?


        • “Feel full of energy”: Not quite half, or 46%, of these young people said they often felt full of energy. 48% said they sometimes felt that way. Only 6% said never. Ask: Do these results surprise you? Why or why not? How often do you feel full of energy? If not most of the time, why do you think that is? The next item might partly explain this feeling.


        • “Generally happy”: Over 72% of the youth surveyed said that they were often happy. 25% said they were sometimes happy. About 2% said they were never happy. Ask: How does this finding relate to the previous two items (Cheerful Mood and Full of Energy)? Are they consistent? (Discuss)

        Now for some contrasting data –

        • “Not as happy as other people my age”: 11% of these young people said they were often not as happy as others their age. 34% said they were sometimes not as happy. The rest, about 55%, said they were as happy as others their age.
        • “Are unhappy, sad, or depressed”: Just about 10% of this sample reported that they had often felt unhappy, sad or depressed during the past six months.Over half, or almost 52% said they sometimes felt that way. 40% said never. Ask: Does it surprise you that 40% of these young people said they never felt unhappy, sad, or depressed? Does this seem realistic in your experience?


        • “Feel hopeless”: Only 5% of these young people, or 1 in 20, said they often felt hopeless. However, 40% said they sometimes felt hopeless, which is of concern. Over half, or about 55%, said they never felt that way. Ask: Do you know of someone who might say they often feel helpless? What are some way to help young people who say they feel this way? (Discuss)
      • Some of the survey items asked young people how often they felt certain ways
        • “Feeling low”: About 5% of these youth reported “feeling low” either every day or more than once a week within the past 6 months. About 10% said they felt this way every week and almost 23% said every month. However, just over 60% said they rarely or never felt low. Ask: How often do you feel low? More than once a week? Or less often? How often do think most of your friends feel this way?
        • “Feeling irritable or in a bad temper”: About 9% of the Victoria youth said they felt irritable or in a bad temper every day or more than once a week. Sixteen per cent (16%) said they felt this way every week, 34 % said they felt irritable or in a bad temper every month, and 41% said they rarely or never felt this way. Ask: Again, how does this compare to your experience?
        • “Feeling nervous”: Almost 10% of these young people said they felt nervous every day or more than once a week. 16% said every week, 24% said every month, and 52% said rarely or never. Ask: How often do you feel nervous and in what situations? Is this “normal”?
        • “Stress”: There were several items in the survey asking young people about stress in their lives. When asked about relationships with family members, 12% of the youth said these were high stress. About 45% said these relationships were medium stress and 43% said low stress.  With regard to relationships with friends, only 3% of the youth said these were high stress. About 29% said these relationships were medium stress and 68% said low stress. Ask: What does this say to you about young people’s relationships with friends in comparison to their relationship with family members? Why might this be so?
        • “More Stress”: When asked about relationships at school or work, 12% of the youth said these were high stress. About 47% said these relationships were medium stress and 41% said low stress. Ask: This is very similar to the results above in relation to family. Why might this be so? When asked about relationships with community members, only 2% of the youth said these were high stress. About 15% said these relationships were medium stress and 83% said low stress.
        • “Stressful events in the last 12 months”: Youth were asked how many stressful events they had experienced in the last year. Ask: What percentage do you think said “none”? Almost 17% said none. Ask: Do you find that surprising? Explain. 65% said 1 to 3 said they had experienced 1 to 3 stressful events in the last 12 months. A further 15% said they had experienced 4 or 5 such events. Slightly over 2% reported 6 or more. Ask: How does this compare to your experiences?
        • “Sleep”: One question asked about sleep. During the previous 6 months, just over 12% of young people reported that they had difficulties sleeping every night (4%) or more than once a week (8%). About 15% said they had difficulty sleeping once a week, and 18% said once a month or so. 32% said they rarely had difficulty sleeping and 23% said never. Ask How often do you or people you know have difficulty sleeping? Is this situation increasing or decreasing over the past few years? Why might that be?
        • Ask: Thinking about these survey results, how do these young people’s responses relate to what we might call their “mental health”? (Discuss)

Activity 3: Lara Gilbert Diaries and Poetry (20-30 minutes)

  • Many writers and artists express their feelings and understandings of journeys of the mnd in a creative form.
  • Lara Gilbert was a young woman who lived in Vancouver in the 1980s and 1990s and struggled with depression. She wrote her thoughts about her quest for understanding and well-being in the pages of her journals and in poetry. Her diaries, poems and other personal papers are in the University of Victoria Archives and an edited volume of her diaries has been published by Trafford Press.
  • Have students read passages from Lara Gilbert’s dairies and her poetry (RESOURCE 2C) and think about her experiences and her quest for wellness.
  • Discussion: What do you think Lara’s life was like? Do you know someone with similar feelings and experiences? What would you say to her if she was your friend?

Extension Activity: Creative Expressions of Mental Health Experience

  • Further exploration of poetry written by people with mental health issues may be of interest to some students. Have students read poetry in RESOURCE 2D and then write their own poems, putting themselves in the place of someone who is suffering from depression.

Activity 4: Coping Strategies (20 minutes)

  • Ask the students how they cope when they feel stressed? Write them on the board (exercise, sleep, chill out, take medication, talk to a friend).
  • Have the students identify which are positive versus negative copying strategies. Discuss the difference between positive and negative coping strategies.
    • Definition for coping strategy: a behaviour that helps us to function better in a given situation
  • Many people turn to others in their life for help when dealing with stress. Ask students for a show of hands regarding who has turned to someone they know for help. Who did they turn to for support? Ask students if they have ever helped someone deal with a stressful situation?
  • Recent Survey Results:
    • McCreary Report:
      • Majority of students felt they could seek support from adults in their family (75%) or from adults outside their family (56%) if they were faced with a serious problem/stress.
      • Students seek support from teachers (44%), doctors or nurses (29%), school counsellors (28%), other school staff (20%), religious leaders (17%), youth workers (16%), and social workers (13%). In addition to turning to adults for support, most students (81%) asked their friends for assistance.
  • Brainstorm helpful ways to support each other when dealing with stress. What are things that people have done that have been helpful? What have people done that wasn’t helpful when they turned to them for support? Create a list.

Closure:  (5-10 minutes)

  • Have students create a list of personal coping strategies – highlighting one they might not have thought about until today.
  • Have students write a journal reflection on what they do to stay mentally fit? What might they increase or decrease to improve their mental well-being?


2A Famous and Crazy?
2B University of Victoria, Healthy Youth Survey
2C Lara Gilbert Diaries and Poetry
2D Creative Expressions of Mental Health Experience

Additional Resources