MindsMatter Action: Muslim Association of Canada (MAC)


Extending Safe Spaces Beyond the workplace

Creating safe spaces for people to truly be themselves is needed across community and workplace environments alike. As a matter of strategy, MAC chose to pilot a project in one of its Greater Toronto Area (GTA)-based schools that boasts a robust population of 800 students and 80 staff that are representative of a diverse socio-cultural background. The goal is to develop a working model for mental well-being (?), refine the best-practices and then share it with other units within the organization.  MAC started to examine the schools’ operations

Two main obstacles loomed in the path of any real and meaningful change – stigma and the lack of language to effectively talk about mental health. Progress would have to be grounded in literacy and information.  As a result, MAC took a two-pronged approach:

  1. Fighting stigma through literacy and normalizing mental health struggles.
  2. Expanding the support system to those who need it into the school and into the community spaces.

MAC started by hiring a Program Coordinator, who was tasked to develop a multi-year strategic Mental Health and Wellness plan.  “Healthy Minds Lead to Healthy Outcomes” is a four year integrated plan that encompasses a collaborative approach to family mental health. It aims to create a safe and supportive environment within the school community, through building literacy, reducing stigma, promoting collaboration, and creating a restorative system, while providing mental health supports on all levels.

The plan utilizes a whole-school approach that targets 4 groups that are key to ensuring mental health and wellness in the school place: student engagement, staff development, family and community engagement.  Now in our second year of implementation, we have provided the following for these key groups:

Student engagement activities have included;

  • Mental health literacy workshops
  • Access to School Guidance Counsellors, with a goal of providing a safe space for students to have meaningful conversations about their mental health
  • Animal Therapy sessions that enhance the classroom experience and promote social emotional learning through students’ interactions with animals
  • iRISE character building workshops empowering students to attain healthy self-identities, while building personal resilience
  • And mindfulness workshops that provide students with strategies for managing stress and anxiety as well as promoting emotional regulation

Staff development activities have included:

  • Mental Health Literacy Workshops for all staff
  • Mental Health First Aid training for our Vice-Principals
  • safeTalk training, which helps participants become an important part of creating suicide-safer communities, for key staff
  • ASSIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), which is geared towards providing skills that help with suicide prevention for our Guidance Counsellors

To encourage family engagement, we conducted various mental health literacy building workshops, as well as parenting seminars and programs that help foster strong and positive relationships between parents and their children.

And lastly, to promote Community Engagement, we organized various initiatives that promote family mental health. One of these initiatives was a Mental Health & Wellness Expo. This Expo created a forum for service providers and families to connect. This was envisioned to provide families with knowledge of and easier access to the services within the community.

The future plan is to utilize evidence-based practice to document and identify best actions that were effective in achieving desired goals and using this as template for other units in the organization that can indeed can be shared with the wider community.

The original article can be found here.

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