Taking care of the world includes taking care of one’s self. That’s why WE is launching WE Well-being, a vital and timely evidence-based initiative that will empower people of all ages.
One in five people lives with a mental health or addiction challenge. The statistic is staggering and it affects us all. We also know that 70 per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.
“To tackle this issue, we have to go upstream, investing in mental health promotion and prevention strategies for youth,” says Leysa Cerswell Kielburger, faculty at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies and advisor for WE Well-being.
“Collectively, we have the ability to empower young people and families by promoting wellness tactics, building capacity and supporting early intervention.”
WE Well-being launches with founding partner the Erika Legacy Foundation, inspired by the life and legacy of Erika Elkington. A world traveller with an MBA, Erika died by suicide one month before her 30th birthday. In the grief-fuelled days after the loss, friends and family resolved that Erika’s life would continue to make a difference.
“Erika was always there to help others,” says her father, Bill Elkington.
“We can’t change what happened, but we can help make sure it doesn’t happen to others.”
As the initiative for young people, families and educators grows, we’ll share proactive resources at the WE Global Learning Centre in Toronto, in classrooms, across our social media channels and during the WE Day season.
Resources will be designed to proactively nurture well-being with a focus on evidence-based prevention and promotion strategies, awareness and action. This approach fits seamlessly into the existing imperatives of Canada’s largest youth-serving organization.
WE already reaches 4.3 million young people, including more than 16,000 schools and groups engaged globally with WE Schools programming. Drawing on this community and building on its infrastructure, WE Well-being will deliver tools, knowledge and simple actions that nurture positive mental health.
This fall, in schools across Canada, the WE Well-being curriculum will pilot a series of in-classroom modules with three educational objectives: to promote social-emotional learning, to foster safe and caring school environments, and to reduce stigma and other risk factors.
“We’re all so excited about this resource because it doesn’t exist—in this framework—anywhere else in the world,” says Maureen Dockendorf, a B.C. educator and WE’s director of educational partnerships.
“What we’ve done is combine social, emotional and mental well-being with what WE does exceptionally well in the world—experiential service-learning.”
Catherine McCauley, WE’s director of curriculum and professional learning, says the goal is to “identify the most respected, evidence-based research, understand context from different geographical regions and confirm areas of need directly from school district leaders and educators.”
The first step was a survey of 600 WE Schools educators. Almost 90 per cent expressed a desire to learn mental wellness basics. Eighty per cent wanted to learn more about self-care.
The curriculum team also sought input from a panel of senior educators at the Educational Research Development Institute, McCauley says. Their advice? “Start with what we do best and have spent years doing successfully—experiential service-learning.”
Dr. Michael Ungar, chair of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University and advisor for WE Well-being, says: “Service-learning is not just about changing hearts and heads, it’s about changing environments.
“We are creating structure that supports negotiating and creating healthy relationships, creating identity, developing a sense of belonging and social justice while in a safe and supportive environment,” he says.
“Put our youth in a service-learning environment and they have an opportunity to not only learn skills but practice them.”
The approach optimizes adolescent brain development, explains Dr. Jean Clinton of McMaster University and advisor for WE Well-being. “The adolescence brain is ‘under construction’ and all experiences in the classroom and community literally sculpt their brains.”
Dr. Mark Greenberg of Penn State University and CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) says that while it was once thought that social emotional learning could not be taught, some 250 experimental studies from around the world now prove it’s possible.
“We need to explicitly teach this in classrooms and schools,” Greenberg says. “By doing this, we can truly have systematic change.”
WE is working with trusted leaders in this space, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Centre for Mindfulness Studies.
The roster of experts involved includes innovators in the field:
Dr. Kimberley Schonert-Reichl (University of British Columbia), a developmental psychologist and motivating leader in social-emotional learning.
Dr. Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and its research institute, and the founder of PROGRESS (the Program of Research and Education to Stop Suicide).
Dr. Stan Kutcher (Dalhousie University), a trailblazer in adolescent mental health and the force behind Teen Mental Health Org, an internationally respected, evidence-based mental health literacy curriculum.
The curriculum will include a module based on Kutcher’s renowned work with mental health literacy. It will focus on relationships and creating safe, compassionate learning environments.
Students will learn about empathy, gratitude, compassion, connection and happiness—skills that can be taught and made visible through experiential service-learning.
“Over a decade of scientific research has shown that when we teach positive human qualities—explicitly, directly and over time—students are more successful in school and in life,” says Dockendorf. “The other correlation is a decrease in mental health challenges, not just in school but throughout their lives.”