Grade nine students at public schools on B.C.'s North Shore will soon see a "mental health literacy" course included on their class list.

The program, which is the first of its kind in the district, is part of a coordinated initiative between North and West Vancouver.

The hope is that teenage students learn how to stay mentally healthy, find help when they're not feeling right and learn how to approach the topic with their friends and family.

"One in five people will develop some sort of a mental illness throughout their lifetime — some will be mild, some will be moderate and some will be very complex," said North Vancouver principal Jeremy Church.

Between 50 and 70 per cent of mental illnesses appear in children before age 18, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association — which is why the North Shore initiative is trying to reach students early.

The program will be taught between February and April of next year.

With files from Deborah Goble