Committee for Children Blog

Promoting Mental Health Through SEL

social emotional learning, assessment, Mental Health Through SEL

Youth mental health has been receiving increased attention in the past several years. Data suggests there are large numbers of children struggling with significant mental health difficulties that affect their success in school and life. So what is mental health? Why is it important to continually support children’s mental health? How does social-emotional learning (SEL) relate to mental health?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” The World Health Organization mirrors this by defining Mental Health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” In essence, mental health affects everything we do.

There are resources and supports available to help those working with children and youth who have mental health challenges. For example, Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches adults how to help youth ages 12–18 who are experiencing mental health difficulties or crises. Typical or Troubled (American Psychiatric Foundation) also prepares adults by teaching them to notice the warning signs of mental health problems, be equipped with intervention strategies, and know where to refer teens for help in addressing these issues.

There is also a preventive side to promoting mental health in children and youth. Safe, caring, and well-managed learning environments are critical components of this. Within such environments, comprehensive social-emotional learning instruction is imperative. Social skills instruction can help address many learning barriers through promoting positive development, which can also positively affect academic achievement. Research shows SEL is associated with a positive impact on important mental health variables that increase children’s attachment to school and motivation to learn and reduce risky behaviors.

Positive social skills are protective factors for mental health. Teaching youth mindfulness, coping skills, communication skills, relaxation techniques, self-regulation, and emotion identification and management equips them with tools and resources to address mental health challenges that interfere with learning. Capitalizing on natural opportunities to promote social-emotional learning and mental health also plays an important role (see the Fall 2003 issue of the Addressing Barriers to Learning newsletter).

Overall, mental and emotional health are integrally related and begin developing at an early age. They help us in our personal, academic, and social lives. Comprehensive programs that are consistently implemented and sustained are critical to youth mental and emotional health because they help youth develop positive skills and coping mechanisms, such as establishing positive relationships and making responsible decisions.

For more information about promoting mental health through SEL, try these resources:

Social and Emotional Learning: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health and Reducing Risk Behavior in Children and Youth

Connecting Social and Emotional Learning with Mental Health

Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom: Promoting Mental Health and Academic Success