About the Project

In schools across Canada, students are chronically absent from school because of mental health disabilities. This is not only an issue of mental health rights, disability rights, education rights, or human rights. It’s a matter of life and death. When we do not provide needs-based educational accommodations, supports, and services, suicide risk factors increase.

For too long, the silence on school phobia and chronic absenteeism has been deafening. Whether it’s the decisions that happen at schools, school boards, provincially, territorially, or federally, by school support professionals or administrators, healthcare or mental health professionals, human rights tribunals or the Supreme Court of Canada, students with mental health disabilities, including school phobia, have a right to a publicly funded education that meets their disability and education needs.

As a nation, we need to take better care of each other. We need to value the lives of young people. We need to walk the talk on mental health and wellness issues, inclusion, accessibility, and human rights. We need to create the needs-based accommodations that allow students to access and manage a publicly funded education. We need to put into practice the human rights of children asserted in 1989 under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada signed the convention in 1991. https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention

Sheryl Boswell

Director of Youth Mental Health Canada, Hamilton, Ontario, International Association of Youth Mental Health.

“Beneath every behavior there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need, rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.” ~Ashleigh Warner


“One size does not fit all.” – Frank Zappa


“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”  – Alexander Den Heijer

Sheryl Boswell is the Executive Director and Founder of Youth Mental Health Canada, a registered charitable nonprofit organization focused on youth, family, and community engagement for mental health education, support, advocacy, and change. 

Sheryl’s journey to YMHC began in her hometown of Hamilton. As a teenager, she worked with young people with disabilities, went to university to continue her studies in the field, and after university, lived in Zimbabwe for three years and worked as a Special Education teacher.

In Canada, Sheryl has taught elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult education students. She is also a trained Life Skills Coach and a Career Counselor. 

Sheryl has been a mental health advocate for almost 20 years. She has contributed to change in education to support students with mental health disabilities. She has provided advocacy support for students across Canada. 

Sheryl has written five mental wellness workbooks, produced a national youth mental health documentary film with 150 students from three provinces and a national youth mental health film contest, Directing Change Canada, created the largest online mental health platform in Canada and the largest youth mental health social media platforms internationally. Sheryl works with many international suicidologists, experts, and organizations, and is a well-regarded expert and collaborator in the field. 

Sheryl has been an active member of the American Association of Suicidology, International Coalition for Addressing and Understanding Suicide Experiences, and the International Association of Youth Mental Health. She has presented at numerous conferences across Canada and internationally and provided youth mental health workshops and training courses on a wide variety of topics for schools, community organizations, professionals, and families. 

Sheryl is a suicide loss survivor. The experience of loss has informed her understanding of suicide experiences and suicide prevention. 

School Phobia and Chronic Absenteeism:

YMHC provided the first nation-wide research on school phobia and chronic absenteeism with a survey that was launched in 2019. YMHC will be providing a follow-up to the first survey with a post-COVID school phobia and chronic absenteeism survey led by a team of professionals, students, families, and community members. 

Sheryl has produced a practical guidebook for families and schools on ways to support young people with school phobia. The guidebook contains important support strategies, assessment forms, support and re-entry to school plans, a mental wellness action plan, possible educational accommodations, and school phobia language, signs and symptoms, coping strategies, and more. We believe this resource will be a helpful guidebook for families and schools everywhere, not just in Canada.

We are working on producing a series of educational videos on school phobia.

We have extensive qualitative and quantitative evidence of the reality of living with school phobia. Story submissions will be updated on our School Phobia website as more families share their experiences. 

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