Re-imagine Well-Being

Did you know that globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, and that suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds? These statistics come from WHO’s 2019 report on adolescent mental health. WHO further elucidates that the consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.

How has this come to be?

In a deficit-focused society that puts children through extensive ranking processes, children grow up making sense of themselves and their place in the world, through the lens of social ranking, frequently arriving at distorted conclusions about their worthiness, such as “I am not good enough”. Outer experiences, such as failing a Math test, not being picked in the sports team, or witnessing a conflict between parents at home, are unconsciously processed and evaluated internally by the brain. A meaning is made about the experience – a meaning about the self, about others and about the world, based on which an emotional and behavioral response to the situation is made.

Children may make meanings such as “I’ll never be good at Math”, “I shouldn’t even try sports” or “It’s better for women to comply than to disagree” – meanings that if unacknowledged or unaddressed become habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving and engaging with the world in the future.

Viktor Frankl has said …

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

We, at CSEL, design and run whole-school efforts and family initiatives to help people begin to identify and productively navigate the space to choose their response. Through tools that build conversation and connection, students, teachers and parents are left with the freedom to authentically relate to themselves and others. Thus begins the process of changing the lens through which children, and their parents and teachers can process successes and failures in any context, in a new way.

Researchers Bear and Watkins (2006) state, “Over time, mastering SEL competencies results in a developmental progression that leads to a shift from being predominantly controlled by external factors to acting increasingly in accord with internalized beliefs and values, caring and concern for others, making good decisions, and taking responsibility for one’s choices and behaviors”.

In order to bring about improved attitudes about the self and others, increased prosocial behavior, and lower levels of problem behaviors and emotional distress, there are two ways that SEL programs can be implemented:

  • 1. The first involves systematic instruction in processing, integrating, and applying social and emotional skills in developmentally, contextually, and culturally appropriate ways (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000), such that students experience a greater sense of belonging and enhanced motivation to contribute to themselves and their community, as well as a diminished motivation to engage in problem behaviors such as substance use, interpersonal violence, bullying, and dropping out of school.
  • 2. The second involves establishing safe, caring learning environments and family environments by creating family initiatives, improving classroom management and instructional practices, and whole-school culture-building activities (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 2004), in order to promote personal and environmental resources so that students feel valued, experience greater intrinsic motivation to achieve, and engage in health-promoting behavior and active citizenship (Greenberg et al., 2003).