Minister of Education Cliff Cullen and Minister of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery Audrey Gordon met outside the Louis Riel School Division’s head office Sept. 7 to announce the government’s plan to allocate more than $1 million to back to school mental health supports to all school divisions.
The supports are an addition to a previous announcement of $2.5 million to improve COVID-19 protections in schools. A Progressive Conservative Party spokesperson claimed that the funding is part of a broader $50 million push since October 2019 to improve mental health and addiction supports throughout the province.
The school divisions will have some discretion in how precisely the funds are allocated given different communities have different needs in terms of mental health supports.
Those supports include talking about mental health, training teachers and school staff and supports for teachers and school staff.
The province is partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Sources of Strength and SafeTalk to provide training for 50 educators, professional development opportunities, thrival kits to help students discuss wellness and meditation and further support to staff and students. $150,000 is allocated specifically for the engagement of elders and knowledge keepers in the school system.
Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont is skeptical the money will make much of a difference.
“It’s sort of a drop in the bucket as far as mental health is concerned and a lot of it is focused on training,” Lamont said.
“This is all about training people who are not mental health professionals in mental health, when what we need is mental health professionals to provide mental health supports.”
Lamont was especially critical of public education being tasked with addressing mental health without a public mental health service.
“It is not for the education system to solve these problems. Mental health problems need to be solved by a mental health system,” Lamont said.
“What we really need is to build up a proper public mental health system and this doesn’t really accomplish that.”
Without that funding, Lamont claims, mental health workers have better luck finding work elsewhere.
“We actually have an incredible program at U of M that graduates psychotherapists,” Lamont said.
“The people we graduate [are] incredibly high quality, it’s a great program, but they end up leaving Manitoba because they don’t have jobs here for them, even though there’s a need.”
What’s more, Lamont said, the mental health funding schools will receive does not amount to much.
“A million dollars always still sounds like a lot of money even though ultimately that’s 20 people making $50 thousand a year,” Lamont said.
“That money goes away very fast.”