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THERE IS NO HEALTH WITHOUT MENTAL HEALTH

One would think with all the publicity surrounding the recent school shootings and stabbings, there would be greater emphasis on mental health education in this country. Obviously, the individuals who resort to these heinous crimes are not dealing rationally with their thoughts and emotions. Some of these students may also need medication and professional counseling. Ultimately, I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to teach mental health; however, it doesn’t seem to be happening to the extent necessary. I implore school professionals across the U.S. to teach these precious ones, not only to be intellectually and physically healthy, but more importantly, to be mentally healthy. I believe mental health instruction could and should be immediately implemented in our nation’s schools.

What is Mental Health?

First of all, what does it mean to have good mental health? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2017):

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects

how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others,

and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and

adolescence through adulthood (U.S. Department of Health & Human Service, 2017,

para1). Retrieved March 15, 2018, from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

As stated by the professionals, mental health is crucial to success in life. Mental health training should not be left to chance.

How And Why Should Mental Health be Taught?

Since mental health determines how we handle the vicissitudes of life and is crucial to societal success, then how and when should this be taught? The best time to begin teaching is from birth. There are a plethora of curriculums available, however, most of them cost money, which is something most schools are short on; therefore, educators must simply seek the best researched based strategies and begin implementation. This instruction should be taught right alongside the educational curriculum and in a differentiated manner. One such curriculum developed by world renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman, who conducted research on whether Intellectual Quotient (IQ) or Emotional Quotient (EQ) determine success in every area of life, would be a great choice. Goleman determined that those individuals with EQ fared better academically, emotionally, and socially than those with high IQ. After this discovery, some schools around the world began implementing a curriculum which develops the following mental health qualities:

· Self-awareness

· Self-regulation

· Motivation

· Empathy

· Social skills

The results of this implementation have been phenomenal. For example, in a recently completed meta-analysis of 668 evaluation studies of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs for children from preschoolers through high school, conducted by Roger Weissberg, who directs the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning at the University of Illinois at Chicago reveals that SEL programs yielded a strong benefit in academic accomplishment, as demonstrated in achievement test results and grade-point averages. 50 percent of children showed improvement in academic scores; incidents of misbehavior dropped by 28 percent; suspensions by 44 percent; and other disciplinary actions decreased by 27 percent. At this same time, attendance increased and positive behavior rose by 63 percent (Durlak, Dymnicki, Taylor, Weisberg, & Schellinger, 2011). In the research realm, these results are incredible.

Hearing these positive results previously described should electrify teachers across the nation into putting these skills into practice. Who better to implement this curriculum than the experts who understand developmentally appropriate practice? I implemented some of the SEL training the past 28 years and have observed some phenomenal results. I have noticed improved academic and communication skills; an increased awareness of the impact thinking and emotions have on one’s behavior; and an increase of effective problem solving behaviors in many of my students of all ages.

I taught these skills in a three-step process that included writing the process on chart paper for continued visibility; the next step is modeling the right way first, then the wrong way and in the end, going back to the right way to implement the emotional skill; and then finally, practicing the skill or strategy until this behavior is cemented in the cognitive or thinking brain as well as kinesthetically. Brain research clearly indicates that moving while learning increases memory of the information (Jensen, 2005).

School professionals and parents might not be able to save the world from violence, but we can do our part in our community schools to teach mental or emotional health strategies to the young people who will be our future leaders, business owners, parents, and social workers. It is never too late to make a difference in the world, one student at a time!

References

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1):405–432.

Jensen, E. (2005) Teaching with the brain in mind. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx


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