Tackling America’s Youth Mental Health Crisis

K-12 schools have a big role to play to help reverse the alarming declines in youth mental health & wellbeing

Youth mental health crisis

Our nation is facing a youth mental health crisis, and it started well before the pandemic. The mental health of America’s youth has been declining for nearly a decade. Depression rates surged +61% among 12-25 year-olds between 2011-2017 (Journal of Abnormal Psychology). Youth anxiety and suicide rates are way up too.

Teachers are on the front-lines of our youth mental health crisis. They see the impact in their students’ lives nearly every day.

K-12 schools are important allies to help reverse the declines in youth mental health and wellbeing. Educators have the reach and influence to proactively equip students with skills and resources that increase resilience, mental health and social emotional learning. At SuperBetter, we are working to empower their success.

The pandemic is compounding the youth mental health crisis

The stress and trauma created by the pandemic over the past year added to the mental health burdens on our nation’s youth. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 – A National Mental Health Crisis reports youth age 13-23 experiencing unprecedented uncertainty, elevated stress and more symptoms of depression. The stressors of the pandemic are widespread and especially heightened for youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth.

Pandemic burden on youth mental health

A case for proactively building skills & resources

Tackling America’s youth mental health crisis requires a focus on treatment and prevention.

For treatment, access to mental health care is a major challenge in the healthcare industry. Even before the pandemic only about half (51%) of youth age 6-17 with a mental health condition received treatment in a given year. Improving access to mental health care is a high priority. In parallel we need preventive efforts that work upstream of the problem and reduce the onset of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Preventing the onset of mental health conditions early in life is a smart strategy regardless of whether we’re in the midst of a crisis. Unlike diseases of aging, mental health conditions often start early in life. According to NAMI, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

The education sector is an obvious ally to implement a prevention strategy to improve youth mental health and wellbeing. Front-line educators have tremendous influence on their students’ lives. Teachers have competencies, access and motive to help students proactively build skills and resources to thrive. These skills and resources may fall under strategies for social emotional learning, student resilience and/or mental health literacy.

Nearly all teachers recognize that developing social emotional skills will also increase student success. In a recent Rand Study 90% of elementary and secondary school teachers agreed that promoting social emotional learning would help to improve students’ academic achievement.

Teachers are generally confident in their ability to improve students’ social and emotional competencies, but they need effective and engaging tools to support their efforts.

An evidence-based tool to impact the youth mental health crisis

While not (yet) designed specifically for educators and youth, many teachers are using our SuperBetter methodology to support their goals.

SuperBetter is a game-based learning platform that empowers educators & students to increase resilience, mental health and social emotional learning.

With its gameful methodology, playing SuperBetter engages students to practice skills, overcome challenges and develop habits in the real world.

Over 1 million people have played SuperBetter. Educators appreciate that it is backed by science. In randomized controlled and clinical trials, SuperBetter players saw significant improvements in resilience and mental health. Published meta-analyses show SuperBetter is among the most effective mobile apps validated for reducing anxiety & depression

A recommended resource for K-12 educators and students

SuperBetter is promoted by many K-12 schools as a resource to improve student mental health, build resilience, reduce stress and support social emotional learning. We regularly express our gratitude to these school allies by posting #ShoutOuts on our Twitter feed.

In this Edutopia article, There’s an App for That—School Counseling and SEL Go Online SuperBetter is recommended as an app to teach kids social and emotional skills.

Classcraft recognized SuperBetter as 1 of the 5 best apps that teachers can use to help students develop social emotional learning skills.

SuperBetter is also promoted as a resource for the wellbeing of educators and staff. This ‘Self Care for Teachers‘ webcast from Grand Canyon University K12 Professional Development recently featured SuperBetter as a tool for teachers and students.

Teachers are creating SuperBetter Classrooms

youth mental wellbeing crisis

We’re inspired by the resourcefulness and creativity of teachers around the country that use our gameful SuperBetter methodology as a practical way to engage students and bring social emotional learning concepts to life.

For example, this Mr. Sticky Chair bad guy poster is for the classroom teacher. He recruited his students to be his allies and let him know when he was sitting for longer than ten minutes.

A the bottom of this post we share more examples of fun and helpful materials created by teachers for their SuperBetter Classrooms.

K-12 teachers also find the SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully book to be a helpful resource. The book has a chapter for each rule of playing SuperBetter (the methodology) that explains how the rule works, the science behind it, and activities to practice the rule in real life.

In his SlowChatHealth blog former SHAPE America National High School Health Teacher of the Year Andrew Milne shares that “some of my favorite go-to SEL activities come from the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, in which there are nearly 100, easy to complete, ‘quests’ that you, or your students, can take in order to live life gamefully and ‘level up’ in life.”

Our new project to tailor SuperBetter for educators & students

We could’t be happier that SuperBetter empowers so many K-12 schools, teachers and students — even in its current form as a broad reaching self-help app (and helpful book).

Now we want to make it much easier for teachers to use SuperBetter with their classrooms. And we want to do it in a way that intentionally promotes the mental health & wellbeing of all students including youth of color and LGBTQ+.

We are lining up resources and alliances for a new project to tailor our app for educators & students. The project will add a new group play experience that enables teachers to host SuperBetter games for their students, and include additional resources to promote resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning.

It’s one way we’re doing our part to help tackle America’s youth mental health crisis.

Your allies at SuperBetter

youth anxiety and depression crisis
SuperBetter is featured in Ms. Long’s Bitmoji classroom
youth mental health crisis
A classroom poster showing the 4 types of resilience built by playing SuperBetter
young people mental health problem
A bad guy poster used in a SuperBetter Classroom. Work Avoid Noid represented work avoidance