Schools across the country have reopened their doors for in-person learning. After over a year of online school and stay-at-home orders, students have been isolated, felt lonely, and had fewer access to resources. In the few months since the school year started, schools have already seen an increase in referrals for mental health services, as well as more verbal and physical fights than in the past. School leaders are worried about how the pandemic has impacted students’ mental health.
The good news is that most schools have prepared many resources to help students readjust to the classroom setting. These supports range from teaching emotional skills in classes to offering therapeutic counseling. Learn more about the different types of mental health resources to understand what your child’s school is offering to help with the transition back to school.
What Is Social and Emotional Learning?
You might have heard your child’s school talk about social and emotional learning, commonly known as SEL. Just as students take academic classes in subjects like math, science, and history, students can also learn about social interactions and emotional intelligence in classes at school. SEL helps students to recognize and manage their emotions, build healthy relationships, make responsible decisions, and develop independence. Schools teach SEL in many different ways.
- SEL Classes and Advisories: Some schools have emotions classes, where students learn all about SEL. Other schools have classes called “advisories” where a group of students meet daily or weekly with a mentor teacher to check in about academic, social and emotional well-being. In these classes, students might use a “mood meter” or other SEL resources to practice recognizing emotions.
- SEL Check-Ins: Some schools build SEL into regular academic classes. For example, your child might be asked to keep a journal in English class to write about their feelings. In math, they might solve a problem with peers, and then reflect on how they managed their emotions, made decisions, and related to other students in the group. Homeroom might start with a five minute meditation to set the mood for the day.
What Is Mental Health?
Everyone has good days and bad days. On bad days, we might feel stressed, overwhelmed, or nervous. Mental health has to do with how we respond to challenges when those bad days happen. Someone who is mentally healthy can manage daily stress and readjust as needed. However, some students may have more trouble managing the normal stresses that come up in life. They might feel like most days are bad days, or like a bad day persists for weeks at a time. These students may be experiencing a mental health condition.
Mental health conditions are extremely common - around 1 in 6 youth are affected by one each year. The most common mental health conditions are anxiety and depression. Mental health conditions can interfere with a child being able to focus in class, readjust to changing situations, or navigate conflicts. Different life situations can cause a student who was once mentally healthy to develop some of these behaviors and need more support.
A child experiencing a mental health condition can benefit from treatment such as coaching, therapy, and medication to develop skills, coping strategies, and goals to feel better. Your child’s school might offer resources like meeting with a school social worker or going to a community mental health clinic so your child can get the care they need. If Hazel is available in your school, you can also reach out to us.
How Do SEL and Mental Health Services Complement Each Other?
Students’ mental health needs are all different. Some concerns are mild while others are more severe. Some are caused by a specific event, such as the loss of a loved one or a breakup, while others are more generalized. Because of this, we can think of SEL and mental health counseling as different steps of mental health services that build upon each other.
Social and emotional learning serves as the first step of mental health services, because every student can benefit from SEL. By teaching SEL in schools, students are more likely to learn in supportive environments, establish good relationships with their classmates, and be able to communicate effectively. SEL helps all students deal with challenges as they come up.
SEL can also prevent mental health conditions from getting worse by helping students manage stressful situations on their own. For example, SEL skills can help a student settle a disagreement with a friend instead of starting a physical fight. Students with strong SEL skills are better equipped to recognize their emotions. For example, they may be able to explain if they are feeling “lonely” or “disappointed” rather than just “sad.” Students with SEL skills may also have strong relationships with their friends. This creates a trusting and supportive environment to safely talk about mental health concerns.
While it is normal for everyone to experience stress sometimes, when a child is experiencing moderate to severe distress, counseling can help. Your child’s school can coordinate with the health services team, school counselors, local mental health providers and/or telehealth services to schedule an appointment with a mental health counselor. Your child’s mental health counselor will be able to stabilize their condition so that it does not continue to get worse, create a treatment plan specific to their needs, and teach coping strategies. This will help to relieve upsetting emotions to help your child feel better.
By knowing the different types of mental health resources available at your child’s school, you can ensure they can get the help they need for a smooth readjustment to in-person learning and a year of academic success.