Article: The Whole Child Blog



Sean Slade

A Health Iceberg

May 16, 2012 by Sean Slade

I use these slides often when discussing health. It starts with the tenets, becomes a pyramid, and then ends with what I call a “health iceberg.” Let me show you what I mean.

Slade - Health Iceberg

The first slide should be fairly obvious to those who are familiar with the five Whole Child Tenets: healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. No need to go over them once more here, but this video offers a great explanation.

The second slide places the tenets into a structure or hierarchy (a la Maslow) highlighting how we cannot and should not focus on, for example, the challenged tenet without focusing prior on those tenets underneath. Again, for more information, read a great synopsis by ASCD’s Molly McCloskey in her Best Questions column.

The third slide takes the first tenet (healthy) and breaks it down into its parts: socially, emotionally, mentally as well as physically healthy. It outlines that these elements are linked, are part of the same whole, and then does something different. It adds a line between physically and the rest.

This is the health iceberg. An iceberg, where you can see what is obvious and sticks out, but you don’t see what lies underneath, is hidden, and is larger and potentially more destructive than what lies atop.

When we discuss health and only discuss the top of the iceberg—what we see—we suggest to ourselves that it is all that being healthy is and can be. We kid ourselves to believing that if we don’t see it, it isn’t there. And more and more evidence is coming out to show that social, emotional, and, in particular, mental health is key to children’s well-being.

  • More than 14 million children and adolescents in the U.S. have mental health issues.
  • 1 in 5 (20 percent) of U.S. youth are affected by some type of mental disorder to an extent that they have difficulty functioning.
  • However, 79 percent of children aged 6 to 17 with mental disorders do not get the help they need.
  • According to the World Health Organization, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 to 44.
  • In 2010, approximately 160,000 children missed school every day out of fear of being bullied.
  • Approximately 2.7 million students are bullied each year with about 2.1 million students taking on the role of the bully.
  • Fifteen percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it as due to their fear of being bullied while at school.
  • Approximately 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem.
  • Suicide continues to be one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of 14 in the U.S.
  • Only half of high school students feel they are an important part of their school community.
  • More than 20 percent of students say there is no adult at their school who cares about them and knows them well.

Mental health—along with social, emotional, and physical health—needs to be addressed.

The first step should be an understanding that what we see may not be all there is. While a focus on physical health (fitness and nutrition) is needed, warranted, and will have positive effects upon mental health, it cannot replace a focus on what lies under the surface.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999; National Institute of Mental Health, 2010; Kataoka, S.H., Zhang, L., and Wells, K.B., 2002;; and Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Indiana University School of Education.

What did you think of this article? I thought it was so interesting. Music teachers (especially Orff teachers) have a great opportunity to work with the social health of children.  We challenge students to create, and encourage them to be understanding and open to their classmates contributions to the class.  Our FL NGSSS have a few focused benchmarks on contributing the class and understanding our personal contributions to a class.  What are your thoughts?


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