You are not alone; many educators are seeing an uptick in student mental health concerns. It is estimated that as many as one in five students experience mental health concerns in any given year. These concerns can include but are not limited to anxiety, depression and behavior disorders. In another report conducted by the CDC, more than half of LGBTQ+ students recently experienced poor mental health and 22% attempted suicide in the past year. Nearly 30% of teen girls also expressed that they had seriously considered suicide, a statistic that has risen by almost 60%. The data is staggering. Children and teens are in a mental health crisis, one that could, without proper preventive measures, have a lasting impact on the future of an entire generation.
While SEL is not a mental health intervention, school-based SEL programs proactively support students’ mental, social and emotional well-being. A strength-based tool, like the Aperture System’s DESSA, connects educators with data to identify students’ skills and, just as important, areas in which a student may need support. Mental health professionals can use the DESSA’s comprehensive, individualized insights to inform interventions and support plans.
Understanding students’ strengths can also assist in conversations with families on mental health concerns. Educators can use the individual student’s strengths as an opportunity to initiate a conversation about the value of SEL, what it entails, and how these ‘soft skills’ are statistically proven to improve student outcomes, socially, academically and emotionally with parents who might be confused or even defensive about SEL instruction for their child. Providing educators with individualized strength-based skills to initiate a conversation with dissenting or apprehensive parents can diffuse the antithetical viewpoint and offers the educator an opportunity to illustrate the truth about SEL; that it focuses on the skills that work in conjunction with academic benchmarks to help students thrive. Conflict around the implementation of SEL is more likely to be mollified, or altogether absent when given the chance to highlight social and emotional skills as a way to support children toward developing a positive sense of self, making responsible decisions, or building relationships with their peers. Using strength-based language to explain to families how their child's strengths can be employed to develop areas where they could use improvement allows families to feel more empowered and optimistic about school-based SEL programming. It also gives families a framework to build from so that their children can develop even greater SEL skills at home.
Additionally, using SEL as a proactive measure means mitigating situations where educators rely on reactive, deficit-oriented approaches, where the focus is on problem reduction over skill development. This positive outlook further encourages students’ well-being. It gives them the language and tools to better understand themselves, their feelings and their emotions. Having these skills and this language empowers students with the ability to advocate for their mental health needs as well, something we know to be vitally important right now.
There is no quick fix. Building students’ mental well-being takes time. Early screening and assessment offer a proactive way to identify your students’ social and emotional strengths and needs. Assessment tools like the Aperture System’s DESSA promote student overall well-being in a proactive, strength-based and preventative way. Working intentionally with students on developing social and emotional skills can promote their well-being and give them the tools to reach their fullest potential. It can also give them the tools to advocate for their mental health needs in the future.
Download our whitepaper to learn how the DESSA can help identify and build the SEL skills needed to reduce behavior problems and promote mental health.