Experts predict the post-pandemic aftermath of mental health issues will be felt 10 years into the future. But there existed a mental health crisis in our country long before the pandemic struck, and most concerningly among our young people.
In the past decade, the rate of teen depression increased by 60 percent. Experts attribute this in part to the use of social media — and its resulting side-effect of decreased socialization. According to The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, teen suicide has increased by 56 percent in recent years, spurring experts to declare a youth mental health crisis. 2018 saw the deadliest number of school shootings in our nation’s history, with 105 incidents of gun violence on campuses, resulting in 61 deaths and 91 injuries. Active shooter drills have become a ‘normal’ part of the school experience.
Our current political climate has crept into our schools in the form of increased incidents of bullying, racism, and school-related hate crimes. Even under the best of circumstances, students experience major stress and anxiety from the pressure to succeed academically and get into a good college. And yet, U.S. students perform poorly in many academic categories compared to other developed nations. Despite myriad school reforms, we have failed to significantly move the needle on student success. Which begs the question – What are we doing wrong? An abundance of research now answers that question, and the answer is Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
The Science of Learning tells us that the act of learning, in and of itself, is a social and emotional experience, which is why SEL needs to be embedded universally in the way we educate, across all grades and content areas, and in all aspects of the education environment. Additionally, teaching explicit SEL skills, such as the CASEL core competencies, are also important.
A landmark review found that students who receive SEL instruction had more positive attitudes about school and improved an average of 11 percentile points on standardized achievement tests compared to students who did not receive such instruction. Along with improvements in students’ academic performance, SEL creates positive attitudes toward school, positively impacts teacher satisfaction and effectiveness and reduces work stress. It helps students become good communicators, cooperative members of a team, effective leaders, and caring, concerned members of their communities. It teaches them how to set and achieve goals and how to persist in the face of challenges. In short – SEL prepares young people for success in adulthood.
As a society, we must respond to our acute needs. At the same time, we must form a vision for the future. We also need a long-term plan for social emotional development that would diminish the harm to future generations while optimizing the possibilities for success and the skills needed to effectively manage ourselves, our relationships, and our society as a whole.