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In the second part of a three-part series on the Learning Counsel, Betsy Hill and Roger Stark continue to explore the relationship between mental health issues and cognitive skills, especially the connection to the stress and anxiety that students and teachers are experiencing  in the K-12 world.

We know that stress impairs learning, but what is still often underappreciated is the degree to which mental health and cognition are connected. As the research continues to surface, the connection between cognition and wellbeing is undeniable. And what’s more, this is a two-way street. Stress impairs learning, and difficulty with learning is known to cause stress and anxiety.

It turns out that every mental health ailment you can think of exacts a cognitive price – that is, people with depression and schizophrenia and PTSD and addictions and sleep disorders are typically saddled with reduced cognitive functioning.  Even some medical treatments, like chemotherapy, are known to negatively impact cognitive functioning.

The other thing to understand is that cognitive effects can persist even when the mental health issue is addressed or treated, so it’s not simply a matter of waiting to get over the stress and then returning to learning as normal.

When students are depressed, every assignment they’re asked to do can seem overwhelming, and with reduced mental cognition, it is even worse.

Yet, the understanding of the connection between wellbeing and cognitive skills is encouraging.


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