Why Do We Need SEL? New Film “The Son” Explores the Youth Mental Health Crisis 

February 28, 2023
Amy Shepherd
Think-Film Impact Production
Why Do We Need SEL? New Film “The Son” Explores the Youth Mental Health Crisis 

The power of art can often be to show our shortcomings and our needs. In Florian Zeller’s new feature film, “The Son,” the story of one family lays bare the global mental health crisis, and the urgent need to provide tools and support for young people to manage complex emotions and internal challenges.

While social and emotional learning (SEL) isn’t a substitute for mental health services, “The Son” implicitly identifies the valuable role that SEL can play in early intervention and preventing poor mental health reaching crisis point. With no such support, the film’s teenage character Nicholas continuously skips school, feeling out of place and unsafe. Warning signs are then missed, and his acute depression starts to get out of control. 

“The Son” is the second film in writer-director Florian Zeller’s powerful family trilogy series. Starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Vanessa Kirby, and Anthony Hopkins, the film heartrendingly captures Nicholas’ family wrestling with their limitations as they try to help their teenage son. 

Throughout the film, Nicholas and his family are lost in a state of uncertainty and confusion, struggling to communicate with one another and desperately trying to fix a situation of pain that none of them fully understand. 

Actor Zen McGrath reflected on Nicholas’s pain, stating, “A lot of times, in real cases you don’t know why you are going through a crisis, and that could really add to the anxiety because you don’t know why something is going wrong.” These words encapsulate the experience of millions of young people worldwide. 

Inspired by this theme, we and the production team behind “The Son” are eager to accelerate access to tools and resources that can vitally help young people understand and communicate their mental health needs. Tools that could have helped Nicholas and his family, and possibly averted the central tragedy of their story. 

Critically, we are mobilizing structural support for social and emotional learning (SEL) in school curricula. CASEL and others are proving that SEL integrated into supportive school environments can tangibly break stigmas and taboos around mental health, increase mental health literacy, and create safe environments for young people to share their truth and reach out for help.

2023 is the European Union Year of Skills. In the U.S., the Biden Administration’s Mental Health Initiative is expanding access to mental health resources in schools to ensure qualified support and providers are available for students. Implementation of SEL complements both of these initiatives by beginning conversations on mental health earlier in youth educational curricula. 

Florian Zeller’s vision for “The Son” is to open a conversation about mental health. This is a vital conversation that will be empowered and amplified by providing young people everywhere with access to SEL. We encourage policymakers and education leaders to watch “The Son” and join the change by supporting and resourcing SEL.

Amy Shepherd is Chief Operating Officer at Think-Film Impact Production, an award-winning team of creative strategists who work with incredible filmmakers and storytellers to impact society and drive forward change where it matters most. Amy’s film impact credits include THE SON (See-Saw, Film4), Bafta-winning NAVALNY (CNN Films), Oscar-shortlisted THE TERRITORY (National Geographic), DARK WATERS (Participant Media) and iHuman (UpNorth).

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.


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