Research has shown that one in five teens has or will have a serious mental illness at some point in their lives. Good mental health is critical for children to be successful—both academically and socially—which is why it’s so important for educators and parents to find ways to support students’ mental well-being both in and out of the classroom.
One of the most important ways to support students’ developing emotional and mental health is by making social and emotional learning (SEL) part of their education. SEL can be a useful tool for promoting general mental health and helping students with serious mental illness or untreated mental health conditions. The foundational aspects of SEL—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making—are all critical to help students find a balance in managing their mental health. Creating a support system that enables children to build these SEL skills is the first step in promoting students’ positive mental health.
How SEL Helps Student Mental Health
Mental health is the combination of emotional, physical, and social well-being and affects how we think, experience emotions, and make decisions. Foundationally, mental health and SEL are focused on the same factors, including emotional regulation, social aptitude, and decision-making skills. This is why SEL skills are so important in equipping students with habits and coping mechanisms to maintain positive mental health.
Teaching students SEL skills helps them create a deeper understanding of emotions as a whole both in themselves and in others around them. Social and emotional learning teaches students how to manage, discuss, and cope with their personal feelings, helping children become more in touch with their emotions. When students know why they are feeling a certain way, they are more capable of making a healthy decision to deal with their emotions in a way that supports mental health.
Social and emotional learning curriculum also helps students learn how to interact with others in a healthy way. Relationship skills learned through SEL help students build stronger, more genuine friendships with peers and positive relationships with adults. Having healthy relationships gives students more self-confidence and social awareness and improves overall happiness—all important aspects of positive mental health.
What Educators and Parents Can Do to Support SEL
With social and emotional learning being such an important factor in building mentally healthy students, educators and parents need to find ways to promote SEL both in and out of the classroom. Here are a few ways you can support students’ social and emotional learning:
- Support SEL at home by talking about your feelings, teaching gratitude and empathy, and being an active listener.
- Encourage an open dialogue about emotions with children, allowing them to share their feelings and learn how to understand others’ feelings.
- Provide students with resources for recognizing and managing mental health issues in themselves and others.
- Promote empathy in your school, teaching students to have social awareness both in the classroom and in their communities.
- Implement a student safety management solution to learn what aspects of SEL students could benefit from practicing more.
With these measures, you can use social and emotional learning to create a strong support system for students experiencing mental illness or other mental health conditions, while also promoting general emotional well-being. By equipping students with SEL skills, you enable them to maintain positive mental health for the rest of their lives.