Innovation summary

Approximately 70% of mental illnesses can be diagnosed before the age of 251 which makes adolescence a critical time for mental health promotion, prevention, early identification, and effective treatment of mental disorders. Given how many hours most Canadian teenagers spend in school each week, schools are an ideal location for recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of youth. At present, however, schools and healthcare systems exist as separate systems. This innovation works to address this gap.

The intervention is based on the observation that in every school there are educators (teachers, student services providers, and primary care providers) that students naturally form good relationships with and go to for help. The “Go-to” Educator Training program trains these ‘go-to’ educators in the early identification of mental health problems and mental disorders. It also provides strategies for linking students in need of help within the school and from the school to appropriate local health/mental health care providers. The training familiarizes educators with the basics of mental health literacy (knowledge, attitudes/stigma, help-seeking efficacy) and assists them in the identification, triage, support and referral of students who might me experiencing a mental disorder.

Impact summary

  • More than 2500 educators trained and more than 30,000 students reached to date
  • 20% increase in access to mental health services


“Excellent workshop with very useful resources and highly applicable to my work. It makes a huge difference”


– Recently trained educator 

Innovation details

“Go-to” Educator Training is a companion program to the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide, and can be implemented independently, or as part of a package that includes the Guide.  “Go-to” educators can be subject or classroom teachers, student service providers (guidance counsellors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, etc.), principals, or other staff members identified by the school. Because this training is provided to educators and local health/mental health care providers concurrently, its impact goes well beyond the usually expected improvements in knowledge and stigma reduction to enhance collaboration between education and health sectors, advancing improved access to needed assessment and care for young people.

Training addresses all aspects of mental health literacy plus case identification, triage, referral and support, and is delivered using a train-the-trainer model, thus sustainably and frugally embedding necessary expertise into existing education systems. Training takes one day using PowerPoints and additional reading material. It can be combined with the Guide training for teachers to create a comprehensive mental health literacy foundation for schools and education systems alike.

Key drivers

Initial funding through School boards, funding agencies

Initial funding was often provided by funding agencies but in many instances school boards also collaborated to cover the minimal costs. Collaboration between healthcare providers (e.g., Alberta Health Services; Ontario Shores Mental Health Services; IWK Health Center), school boards, and in some cases Ministries of Education also contributed to funding.


Promoting the intervention to schools/school boards

Often school boards are not aware of how important it is to use evidence-based interventions.  We did not invest heavily in “marketing” of the intervention and did not use targeted marketing to aid diffusion of the intervention.

Human resources to conduct the training and evaluation 

One rate-limiting step was using our team for training and evaluation purposes. We now use a ‘train the trainer’ model with core training held in an easily accessible site which builds capacity within education systems. While we assist with evaluation by providing validated outcome measurement tools, many of the sites conduct their own evaluations although we are able to help depending on the site capacity to do so.


This intervention is now available for use across Canada. We are submitting a grant application to allow us to develop an online version that will be more easily accessible.



Evaluation methods

We use cross-sectional, longitudinal cohort, and controlled cohort designs for program evaluation.  We measured changes in knowledge, stigma, help-seeking behaviours, and access to mental health services.

Cost of implementation

Implementation is inexpensive – costs are for training time and site costs of “Go-To” Educators, plus cost recovery for the training team. Exact costs vary depending on the region.  

Impact details

The results of this intervention have been studied in several provinces in Canada – namely Nova Scotia (120 “Go-to” educators trained and tested), Ontario (244 educators), Manitoba (31 educators), and Alberta (363 educators) – with highly positive results in each setting reported. Correlation analysis measured a relationship between knowledge and stigma. Knowledge significantly improved, and stigma significantly decreased. Additional studies in other Provinces are also currently underway (for example in Alberta over 1500 teachers have been trained to date).  A cluster controlled study of access to mental health services has just been completed in Alberta with positive results for intervention schools compared to controls.

Recently the “Go-To” training has been implemented through the leadership of the Alberta Mental Health Services in Calgary, within both the Public and Catholic Boards. As of June 2016, over 1600 teachers and other school staff have been trained. Data linking participating schools to local child and youth mental health services demonstrates a 2 to 2.5 fold increase in access to mental health and addictions care for youth in schools into which the training was integrated compared to those whose staff had not yet been trained.  Referral rates to mental health care providers based on school training status in Alberta show the effectiveness of the intervention. Of the 26 schools with their entire staff trained there have been 466 referrals (17.92% referral rate). Of the 235 schools yet to be trained there have been 1,673 referrals (7.19% referral rate). This data comes from the Child and Adolescent Addictions and Mental Health Programs and Psychiatry in Calgary, Alberta.


  1. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62 (6) pp. 593-602. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593.
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