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In this activity…

Students are introduced to the Two Continua Model of Mental Health and Illness. They then reflect on what mental health feels like, looks like, and sounds like for themselves.

And the point is…

Many students have never explored the distinction between mental health and mental illness. As such, they fail to recognize that someone with mental illness can have good mental health (leading to flourishing) and that someone without a mental illness can have poor mental health (resulting in languishing). Failing to acknowledge these possibilities perpetuates mental illness stigma and contributes to worsening mental health conditions.

Before students can address their mental health, they must realize that everyone has mental health and that, just like physical health, there are things that they can do to take care of their health and prevent illness.

Materials: Whiteboard or Projector, stress balls (or any other small ball), worksheets, writing supplies‍


For this activity, you can choose to either use the diagrams included in the slide deck to demonstrate the Two Continua Model of Mental Health, or you can draw the Model on the whiteboard, which fosters a sense of collaborative discovery and may help students remember the Model.

Then, continue the previous discussion about the limitations of mental health and mental illness being presented on a single continuum, by asking students to consider a different scenario. Share the Two Continua Model of Mental Health and Illness and explain that, in this scenario, the vertical axis represents mental health and the horizontal axis represents mental illness. In other words, mental health and mental illness are recognized as distinct from each other; as two pieces of a puzzle.

Ask students to consider how the Two Continua Model might change the way they think about mental health and mental illness. Use guided questions to steer students towards recognizing that it’s possible to have good mental health despite having a mental illness and that people who don’t have a mental illness can have poor mental health.

Conclude this discussion by emphasizing that not everyone has a mental illness, but EVERYONE has mental health and that there are things students can do to take care of their mental health.

To reinforce these ideas and transition into the next activity, play the five-minute video titled “We All Have Mental Health”, which was produced by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

This video ends by suggesting that, when it comes to feeling better, different people find different things helpful. Let students know that before they can find ways to feel better, they need to first identify what “better” means.

Introduce the medicine wheel, explaining that Indigenous people recognize four facets of wellbeing, which are necessary at the individual, family, and community level. These facets include the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of students' lives. Tell students that all four of these facets of wellbeing need to be attended to for students to find balance and maintain their wellbeing.

To demonstrate this, separate students into groups of four. Give each group a stress ball and lead them through an activity, using the following instructions:

The medicine wheel, which is a central component of Indigenous culture, recognizes four facets of wellbeing: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In this activity, every group represents a medicine wheel and every student in a group represents one of the four facets of wellbeing.
In your groups, everyone will put one elbow into the middle of the circle, balancing the ball at the center. Once you have done this successfully, one team member will step away from the group, such that the ball is now being balanced between three students. Then, another student will step away from the circle, leaving only two students to balance the ball. If the ball falls at any point, restart the activity with four people supporting the ball. Be sure to take turns stepping away from the circle so that everyone has a chance to experience what it’s like to balance the ball with fewer people, as well as the experience of sitting out.

After 5-7 minutes of doing this activity, start a discussion using the following questions and prompts:

What did you notice when someone stepped away from the circle?
Sample Student Response: As people are removed from the group, it becomes harder and harder to keep the ball in balance.
Recall that each of you represented one of the four facets of wellbeing. What does this activity suggest about our wellbeing?
Sample Student Response: This activity demonstrates the interconnectivity between the four aspects of wellness in one’s life. If any of these aspects is not fulfilled, it becomes a lot harder to maintain/balance our overall wellness.
Did anyone’s ball drop? What might the dropping ball represent?
Sample Student Response: The ball almost always drops when two people are removed from the circle. The ball dropping may represent a loss of balance; a setback or crisis related to our wellbeing.
How were you able to rebalance the ball after a fall? Why is this important?
Sample Student Response: The ball is rebalanced when all four students come back to the circle. This represents how imbalance is the result of an unfulfilled facet and that balance can be restored by attending to all four facets.

Now that students are familiar with the four facets of mental health and wellbeing, explain each facet in greater detail:

  • Physical (Body) – this includes diet, exercise, developmental status, and symptoms of any other health conditions or life circumstances.
  • Mental/Social (Mind) – this includes inter- and intrapersonal skills, social relationships, education, and intellectual ability.
  • Emotional (Heart) – this includes the entire range of human feelings such as love, joy, belonging, fear, shame and anger.
  • Spiritual/moral (Soul) – this includes values, beliefs, and sense of meaning, which may or may not be related to religion.

Let students know that the specific sensations, experiences, or ideas that fall into each of these facets is unique. For example, an introverted student might nurture their mind by reading a book, journaling, or spending an afternoon with one of their close friends, whereas an extraverted student may be energized by a dance party with friends.

Similarly, everyone has different dietary restrictions, health conditions, and fitness levels that cater to an individualized description of the physical facet. In the last activity, ask students to reflect on their own lives by identifying specific components of each facet that are necessary for them to be able to achieve optimal mental health and wellbeing. Students should work independently to complete the worksheet. If there is time, allow students to share some or all of their Mental Health Medicine Wheel.

My Mental Health Medicine Wheel Worksheet availabble for download in the downloads section.


I am not religious. Does that mean that I don’t have a spiritual facet? Is my life balanced by only three pillars?

No, spirituality is not the same as religion. Spirituality is a universal, personal experience that revolves around your soul and inner self. Being spiritual involves understanding, and attending to your values, beliefs, and practices, as well as engaging in activities that fulfill your sense of meaning and purpose in life. Spiritual practices may include yoga, journaling, nature, reading, or community service – anything that brings you “home to yourself”. It is possible to be very spiritual without being religious. It’s also possible (although less common) for someone to be very religious but less spiritual.  

I still don’t get it. Why is mental health not the opposite of mental illness?

We tend to think of a “crazy person” when we hear the words “mental illness”. In reality, many people with mental illnesses have the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to effectively manage their symptoms, and they can participate fully in life. It’s not possible to tell who does and who doesn’t have a mental illness by just looking at them. Although these people have a diagnosed mental illness, they have good mental health. Similarly, you can struggle with your mental health without having a diagnosed mental illness. Try remembering the last time you were stressed about a test, competition, or social event. If you didn’t have the right knowledge, skills, and resources to manage the situation, then your mental health would have been affected. You might have been very anxious and worried, had trouble concentrating, felt really down, or felt withdrawn from friends and family groups. If the situation doesn’t change, and you don’t have the right tools, these symptoms can become devastating.

In both of these examples, there is a distinction between mental health and mental illness. If mental health and illness were opposites of each other then, in the first example, it wouldn’t be possible for someone with a diagnosable mental illness to thrive and, in the second example, someone without a mental illness wouldn’t struggle with their health.

What are some things that I can do to have good mental health?

I love how eager you are to take care of your mental health! During this school year, have been working through different techniques that you can use to build-self-awareness, overcome negative thoughts, practice self-compassion, and develop a greater sense of connection. These are all skills that require a lot of practice and, over time, it will feel more natural to attend to your wellbeing. Try identifying activities that bring you a sense of joy, behaviours that fill you with comfort and calm, and people who make you feel seen and heard. In the video that we watched together in class, some of the examples included taking a break, spending time with pets, talking to friends, doing art, playing sports, reading, and writing.