Try as we may, we cannot ensure that students will leave school with every one of the latest hard skills prevalent in today’s workforce. Given the rapid technological development that promises to change the future workforce at never-before-seen speeds, there are myriad technical abilities we don’t yet know young people will need. But we can prepare them to face uncertainty with openness and adaptability.
Recent mental health research has demonstrated that a person’s ability to cope with uncertainty is a key predictor of anxiety disorders and clinical depression. Those who feel unable or unsure of how to manage themselves and their emotions in uncertain situations are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than those more confident in their ability to handle ambiguity.
Notably, the COVID-19 pandemic and Fourth Industrial Revolution have brought in a time of immense uncertainty of how technology will develop and shape our lives. Developing 21st century skills that can support young people enormously as they come up against inevitable uncertainties in their academic, personal, and professional futures.
One key variable that can significantly affect an individual's ability to navigate uncertainty—and one that Wayfinder holds as a guiding tenet of our curriculum—is a connection to purpose. Purpose is one’s intention to accomplish something that is both meaningful to the self and consequential to the wider world. Thus, purpose learning enables students to meet uncertainty with the knowledge of where they want to go and have the confidence in themselves to do what they need to get there. In short, it is a key component in supporting mental health in students.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five key pillars of SEL, and research has shown that the implementation of SEL in schools functions as a powerful preventative mental health measure. Wayfinder adds purpose to these five pillars as a way to make SEL education even more effective and useful for young people.
The adoption of SEL has historically been much higher in elementary schools than in middle and high schools. However, more and more middle and high schools have turned to SEL to support engagement and mental health in recent years. Especially after pandemic-related interruptions to schooling, it has become clearer that having healthy strategies to manage mental wellness is an essential life skill.
As Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Marc Brackett points out, it is easy to confuse many challenging emotions, such as stress, overwhelm, and anxiety. When young people don’t have the skills to identify and manage these emotions, they are left to struggle or, worse, turn to maladaptive coping strategies like drug and alcohol use.
According to the Office of the US Surgeon General, childhood and adolescent mental health has been steadily growing worse in the US. In 2021, it was officially declared a crisis. More than a third of high school students report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness—an increase of over 40% in recent years. Adolescent suicide rates grew over 57% between 2008 and 2018 and accounted for nearly 7,000 deaths in 2020 among people aged 10-24. Additionally, the CDC reported that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant rise in anxiety, depression, traumatic stress, and substance use that was disproportionately concentrated among young people. Unsurprisingly, many educators have also reported a decline in the mental health of students in their schools.
To help students cultivate the skills to support their future success in their academic and, later, professional careers, schools must empower their students with the ability to understand and manage their emotions in a healthy and productive manner. In this way, supporting the mental health of students can be seen as one essential component of preparing them to successfully navigate the workforce and their lives.
Download our full white paper Putting SEL to Work here to learn more about how SEL and Wayfinder are helping students thrive personally, achieve academically, and build the skills employers are looking for.