SEL and Mental Health

States, districts, and schools often use social and emotional learning (SEL) to support the mental health and well-being of their students.

While SEL and mental health are not the same, SEL can promote positive mental health in many ways. By promoting responsive relationships, emotionally safe environments, and skills development, SEL cultivates important “protective factors” to buffer against mental health risks. In this way, SEL is an indispensable part of student mental health and wellness, helping to improve attitudes about self and others while decreasing emotional distress and risky behaviors. SEL should be implemented as part of a system of mental wellness supports and resources that include promotion, prevention, early intervention, and treatment.

SEL can help strengthen the coordination and delivery of student services. Mental health supports fall on a continuum of care, or a tiered system of evidence-based supports, ranging from universal strategies that promote strengths and prevent risks (Tier 1), to targeted or early interventions for students who have been or might be exposed to risk factors (Tier 2), and finally to intensive treatment and intervention supports (Tier 3).

It is critically important to position evidence-based SEL programming and practices as a universal, strengths-based Tier 1 support to promote the healthy development, resiliency, and well-being of all young people. Additionally, Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports should align with overall SEL goals, integrate SEL practices such as relationship-building, and reinforce core social and emotional competencies. SEL can also help create pathways and alignment between schools and community partners as they work together to ensure all students have the support they need to thrive.

How is CASEL advancing this work?

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We have developed guidance for district and school leaders on integrating SEL and multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) to create coordination.

CASEL partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the American Institutes for Research to create a state-level community of practice for alignment and coherence across SEL and MTSS.

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