The Toronto District School Board will provide mental health training to its entire labour force as it works to provide a better support system for students dealing with anxiety and depression.

The initiative is part of a four-year mental health strategy unveiled by TDSB Director of Education Donna Quan at Rosedale Heights School for the Arts on Tuesday morning.

Other major tenants of the strategy include the establishment of mental health teams to promote health and wellness inside schools, enhanced engagement and communication with parents and a commitment to increase the number of schools with anti-stigma programs by 50 per cent.

“We want to do a blitz with this because it is an important and key topic in the well-being of our society. This is not just about education,” Quan told reporters following the news conference. “We are raising youngsters and youth that are more anxious and more worried about their future and we want them to feel good about themselves because without a healthy mind you can have all the academic strength in the world and where does it lead you?”

The TDSB aims to provide introductory mental-health training to all of its 33,000 full-time employees and 6,000 part-time employees by June.

The training will be provided at a cost of about $150,000, which is being covered through a grant from the Ministry of Education.

Quan said the training will not come in the form of a “one-day workshop” and will include ongoing online training and monthly discussions amongst staff about mental health issues.

The TDSB will also add information about getting help to every employees pay stub as it works to drive the message home.

“It is not just the teachers in front of the students that need to take ownership for the well-being of students,” Quan said. “This job belongs to all of us, right from the superintendent to the classroom teacher to the educational assistant to the lunchroom supervisor. Everyone must recognize what anxiety and depression looks like and sounds like. “

TDSB hopes to better educate students on how to cope with stress

Public school health classes have traditionally taught things like healthy relationships and healthy living, but Quan said she would like to see a more “precise” mental-health geared curriculum, pointing to the school where she made the announcement as the model to strive towards.

Rosedale Heights School for the Arts on Bloor Street East has trained 12 teachers in “mindfulness practices,” and those teachers now integrate skills like how to better cope with stress and live in the moment into their teachings.

The school also has a number of other programs aimed at easing student mental health, including a weekly yoga session lead by a certified instructor.

“It is actually not that easy to be a human being, it is kind of hard and we all need some help along the way. That’s why at Rosedale we have made it a part of our daily lives,” mental health lead teacher Kathy Sartory told reporters Tuesday. “You know resiliency is a skill, well-being is a skill and happiness is actually a skill. You can learn it and you can teach it.”

Most students suffer from some form of anxiety

The Toronto District School Board’s commitment to improve mental health comes in the wake of a comprehensive survey completed in 2012 that revealed many students are struggling to deal with day-to day stress and often face prolonged bouts of depression.

The survey found that 17 per cent of students between Grade 9 and 12 reported being “down” most of the time and about 38 per cent reported being “under a lot of stress” most of the time.

The survey also found that 73 per cent of students between Grade 9 and 12worry about their future.

“I find it alarming. We live in a fast paced society where technology has increased the speed of our response time and I think that has transferred to how students feel they need to respond and perform,” Quan said. “Our job is to have the hurried society but also give students the skills and the competencies to slow down when needed and to reach out for help.”