VIP Focus: Are We Prepared?

By Dr. Ellis Jaruzel, Chief Research Officer, Therapy.Live

DashBoard, Jan. 10, 2018

Therapy Live

It’s your worst nightmare. One of the students at your school has died. By suicide. You and the rest of the school community struggle to manage the aftermath all while grappling with your own intense emotions. Questions. Confusion. Pain. What can be done? What could have been done? Sadly, this scenario is all too common in schools today.

Adolescence has historically been a challenging time physically, socially and academically. In recent years, however, these challenges have only been intensified by rapid and complex changes in society, technology and generational differences, necessitating increased vigilance and intervention in the domain of mental and emotional health.1

In the last decade, adolescence has been complicated by a dramatic rise in mental health concerns and suicide risk.2, 3 As many as half of students today may meet criteria for a mental health disorder.4 Recent problematic media depictions and chronic smartphone usage have likely exacerbated the mental health challenges already present in adolescence.5, 6, 7

In addition to the high prevalence of these disorders, there is also a chronic problem with these disorders going untreated or undertreated. Only about half of adolescents with mental health concerns are receiving any treatment whatsoever, and many of those that do receive some treatment are significantly undertreated.8 These untreated and undertreated mental, emotional and behavioral health concerns are likely spilling over into the classroom, challenging schools to be a key de facto point of intervention.

Despite the prominent role that schools are tasked with playing in the area of mental and emotional health, parents are presently lacking in confidence about the ability of schools to address a suspected mental health problem, with only 32% very confident that these concerns will be attended to at the middle and high school levels (compared with 70% very confident about schools being able to address a physical health problem).9 In spite of this crisis of confidence, parents are clear in their desire to see their students receive increased education and training in mental, emotional and behavioral health, with more than two-thirds wanting these topics to be specifically addressed as a part of their child’s health education.10

Given this, states are constructing competency guidelines in the area of social emotional learning.11 These comprehensive guidelines signal a sea change in policy priorities, indicating that interventions in these areas need to be considered as a part of the overall educational and developmental sequence of students.

We now have very good data supporting the effectiveness of programs that promote social emotional learning and mental health skills competencies. Summarizing the findings of 213 different studies in this area, Durlak et al confirmed that programs targeting social and emotional skills have been shown to significantly: improve SEL skills, improve student attitudes, increase prosocial behaviors, decrease conduct problems, decrease emotional distress, and improve academic performance across all grade levels (elementary, middle, high) and across differing school types (urban, suburban, rural).12

These findings, coupled with the frontline experiences of educators and administrators, suggest that schools can become a key place to positively intervene in the lives of adolescents. Schools can become a place where students learn key life and coping skills to support healthy and engaged lives going forward.

View an infographic summary of this article.

Dr. Ellis Jaruzel is the Chief Research Officer at Therapy.Live and a co-author of the Prepare U Mental Health Curriculum, and can be reached at DrJ@Therapy.Live or 844.724.LIVE.

VIP Focus articles are company-sponsored advertisements and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of MASB. It’s intended to provide Very Important Partners with a space to share information of value to you and your district.


1Twenge, J. M. (2017). IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Simon and Schuster.

2Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, e20161878.


4Merikangas, K. R., He, J. P., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., ... & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980-989.

5Ayers, J. W., Althouse, B. M., Leas, E. C., Dredze, M., & Allem, J. P. (2017). Internet searches for suicide following the release of 13 Reasons Why. JAMA internal medicine, 177(10), 1527-1529.

6Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2017). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 2167702617723376.

7Twenge, J. M., Krizan, Z., & Hisler, G. (2017). Decreases in self-reported sleep duration among US adolescents 2009–2015 and association with new media screen time. Sleep medicine, 39, 47-53.

8Copeland, W. E., Shanahan, L., Davis, M., Burns, B. J., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2015). Increase in untreated cases of psychiatric disorders during the transition to adulthood. Psychiatric Services, 66(4), 397-403.




12Durlak, 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.

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