Educators are always looking for ways to improve mental health services for students. They also know that social and emotional learning (SEL) is important for students and can enhance their health and academic, social, and emotional success.

Where do preventative mental health supports and SEL overlap, and what are their differences?

There is some confusion around the similarities and differences of preventative mental health supports and SEL, and how the two can work together. Keep reading to get answers to common questions around preventative mental health services and SEL, and then get tips on how to integrate the two to maximize student supports and positive outcomes.

Preventative Mental Health and SEL FAQs

What is preventative mental health?

Preventative mental health aims to reduce the incidence, prevalence, and recurrence of mental health disorders and their accompanying disabilities. Interventions are designed to reduce risk exposure and strengthen the individual’s ability to cope and persevere.

What is SEL?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Can the terms “preventative mental health services” and “SEL” be used interchangeably?

No. While there is often overlap, some students with clinically diagnosed mental health concerns may not have social and emotional skill deficits. At the same time, not all students who lack sufficient social and emotional competencies also need mental health support. While SEL can benefit all students, some students, including those with severe mental health disorders, will need additional supports beyond SEL programming.

How can SEL support preventative mental health services within my school?

SEL can improve the mental well-being of all students, including those who may be receiving mental health services. An effective SEL program can help schools effectively address barriers to learning and promote every student’s well-being — a critical element of building resilience and protective factors in students.

How to Connect SEL Programming and Preventative Mental Health Supports

  1. Create SEL standards. Just like state learning standards define and establish learning expectations, establishing common SEL goals provides educators with a clear roadmap for teaching SEL. The Illinois State Board of Education has created a good example of SEL standards.
  2. Establish open communication between school staff and community agencies so all share a common language and are working toward common goals.
  3. Promote collaboration and inclusiveness by having educators and student support staff work together. For example, have both a school psychologist and a teacher co-deliver a targeted SEL lesson in the classroom. This will promote program sustainability and will build cohesion among all staff.
  4. Provide opportunities for community partners and families to collaborate and learn about your SEL program. Helping our students succeed truly takes a village, and outcomes will improve with support outside the school.

We need to do more to build preventative mental health supports like resilience and protective factors in our students. SEL can provide a strong framework to support the resilience and well-being of all students (though some students will need additional supports beyond SEL programming). Schools can maximize program benefits by integrating SEL programming and preventative mental health supports within a cohesive model.

SEL experts from Aperture Education are here to help support your students’ mental health needs. Let’s have a conversation about how to implement a quality SEL program in your school or district that will strengthen preventative mental health supports for students. You can also check out our Preventative Mental Health webinar to learn more.