Why is SEL important?

Why is SEL important?

Mental Health

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s national mental health strategy Changing Directions, Changing Lives discusses the importance of enhancing protective factors that are known to contribute to positive mental health, such as positive relationships, emotion regulation, self-awareness, and social awareness. Although it is not possible to know in advance which individuals will experience symptoms of mental health problems or illnesses, we can however enhance such protective factors that are known to help reduce symptoms and disability, and support people in their journey to recovery as well as maintain wellness. Those who engage in social and emotional learning possess the protective factors needed to be mentally healthy. 

Tackling mental health in schools and at a young age is key given that:

  • 10-20% of children and youth are affected by mental disorders (CMHA, 2017)

  • Most mental health services for youth are provided by their schools (Costello et al., 2014)

  • Social and emotional competencies prevent school failure and address mental health needs of students (Stoiber, 2011)

  • Social and emotional interventions decrease emotional distress such as anxiety/depression and improve social emotional skills (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)

Academic benefits

Research on children displayed that high social and emotional competence is predictive of academic readiness, early school success, and adjustment (Denham, Bassett, Zinsser, & Wyatt, 2014).

Teachers reported improved academic engagement among students within sustained SEL programs in grades 1-3 (Bierman et al., 2010).

A meta-analysis found that students who participated in SEL programs demonstrated an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to control groups (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)

Alignment with global curriculum standards

Assessing empathy and attitudes around openness, respect, global-mindedness, and responsibility have been proposed for 2018 PISA criteria (OECD, 2016)

Economic benefits

Benefit-cost analyses estimate that there is an 11:1 return when investing in SEL (CASEL, 2017)

For additional information on SEL in relation to mental health, academic benefits,  and curriculum see our Reference list below, our ongoing Phase III Research Briefs, and visit our SEL Resource Section.


  • Bierman, K. L., Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., Lochman, J. E., McMahon, R. J., & Pinderhughes, E. (2010). The effects of a multiyear universal social-emotional learning program: The role of student and school characteristics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 156-168. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.upei.ca/10.1037/a0018607
  • Canadian Mental Health Association. (2017, April). Fast facts about mental illness. Retrieved from Canadian Mental Health association website: http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.Us1uj7SmYk8
  • CASEL. (2017, April). SEL impact. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/impact/
  • Costello, E. J., He, J., Sampson, N. A., Kessler, R. C., & Merikangas, K. R. (2014). Services for adolescent psychiatric disorders: 12-month data from the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent. Psychiatric Services, 65(3), 359–366. http://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.201100518
  • Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., Zinsser, K., & Wyatt, T. M. (2014). How preschoolers' social-emotional learning predicts their early school success: Developing theory-promoting, competency-based assessments. Infant and Child Development, 23(4), 426-454.
  • 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: 405–432.
  • OECD. (2016). Global competency for an inclusive world. Paris: Author. Available from https://www.oecd.org/education/Globalcompetency-for-an-inclusive-world.pdf
  • Stoiber, K. C. (2011). Translating knowledge of social-emotional learning and evidence-based practice into responsive school innovations. Journal of Educational & Psychological Consultation, 21(1), 46-55.