This release was issued under a previous government.

The Alberta government will expand a pilot project that provides mental health supports to children in Red Deer schools, and develop a province-wide approach based on an evaluation of all current school-based mental health programs.

Over the past decade, through the “Creating Connections” strategy for addiction and mental health, the province has built a successful partnership between the health system and schools.  Alberta Health currently funds mental health programs in 193 schools, in addition to the “EMPATHY” program in Red Deer.

Alberta Health will fund an expansion of EMPATHY in 2015-16, and evaluate all current programs.  Based on the results of the evaluation, the department will work with Alberta Health Services to develop a province-wide approach to increase access to evidence-based mental health supports.

“Our children and youth embody the promise of new ideas and energy to keep building our great province. By expanding addiction and mental health resources in schools, we are helping ensure our children have every chance to be happy and to succeed in whatever paths they choose to pursue in life.”

Jim Prentice, Premier

“We know from experience that school-based programs can play a huge role in supporting good mental health and in identifying problems early, so they can be addressed with the support of families and mental health professionals. Most mental health problems start when people are young, which is why these programs are so important.”

Stephen Mandel, Minister of Health

The EMPATHY program is a pilot project between Alberta Health Services’ Addiction and Mental Health Strategic Clinical Network, Red Deer Public Schools and Red Deer Primary Care Network that focuses on prevention, early identification and rapid treatment in elementary and junior high schools.

 “Schools play an important role in building resiliency and positive mental health. The EMPATHY program has had a significant impact not only by identifying and providing needed support for students with potential mental health issues, but also by creating conversation and awareness among students, staff and families. Expanding school-based resources province-wide will help to ensure that all students have the supports they need to thrive.”

Mark Jones, Principal, Central Middle School

In Budget 2015, Alberta Health will invest $48 million in addiction and mental health programs, including school-based programs, through Creating Connections: Alberta’s Addiction and Mental Health Strategy.  Increasing mental health resources for children and youth in schools fits with the strategic direction of Creating Connections, which aims to reduce the prevalence of addiction and mental illness in the province.

An interim report on the strategy’s implementation is now available on the Alberta Health website. The report highlights a number of actions to advance addiction and mental health services for Albertans.

Interim report highlights

  • Public dissemination of Canada’s Low-risk Drinking Guidelines to reduce health risks associated with drinking alcohol;
  • Mental health capacity-building projects in 168 Alberta schools (since increased to 193), reaching more than 300,000 students and families a year;
  • Enhanced care and service for Albertans with complex care needs.

The $48 million in funding for activities under Creating Connections is in addition to annual funding provided to Alberta Health Services to deliver publicly-funded addiction and mental health programs and services, including counselling, day treatment, in-patient treatment, outreach and rehabilitation services. Alberta Health Services spends more than $600 million a year on addiction and mental health services for Albertans.