This article is part of PAR’s Mental Health Awareness Month series, in which we will be focusing on the multifaceted issue of mental health in the U.S. Come back each week for more insight. 

Our mental health often takes a backseat in the world of constant hustle, daily pressures, and to-do lists. But what if the key to a brighter mood and a more resilient mental state lies in the very act of movement? New research finds that physical activity, in any form, is directly linked to better mental health. 

From the growth of new brain cells to exercise's benefits on sleep, this article takes a deep dive into this topic and reveals: 

  • The latest research on the connection between physical activity and brain health 
  • Mental health benefits of exercise 
  • The protective factors of exercise on mental resilience 
  • Easy ways to start a fitness routine that will last 

The Mind–Body Connection 

As we dive into the relationship between exercise and mental health or the “mind–body” connection, understanding how exercise helps release chemicals that positively influence brain function is essential. Below, we highlight three key actions that take place during physical activity. 

Neurotransmitter Release 

During exercise, your body releases neurotransmitters, including: 

  • Endorphins 
  • Dopamine 
  • Norepinephrine 
  • Serotonin 

This chemical release is not just good for your body; it also benefits your mental well-being. Why? These neurotransmitters elevate mood and reduce stress. One review revealed that the positive effects of physical exercise on dopamine levels could result in using exercise as an intervention for treating mental illness. 

BDNF: "Miracle-Gro" for the Brain 

Not only does exercise kickstart neurotransmitter release, but it also amplifies neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt and change. Exercise heightens neuroplasticity by boosting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) release. BDNF supports neuron growth and development, or as Dr. John Ratey, Harvard neuropsychiatrist, states in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, "BDNF is Miracle-Gro for the brain." 

What does this mean? The more brain cells you activate during exercise, the more BDNF you have—it's like brain fertilizer. This increase in neuroplasticity leads to improved cognitive function. 

Oxygen Boost 

Exercise also boosts the oxygen supply to the brain, promoting better cognitive function. When you engage in physical activities, your heart pumps faster, leading to blood vessel growth. This increase in oxygen supply has a profound effect on mental health. 

Why? A well-oxygenated brain is a healthy brain. Boosting oxygen levels through exercise helps improve executive function, including flexible thinking and self-control. This action allows the brain to become more resilient against issues like depression and anxiety. 

The Protective Benefits of Physical Activity 

According to the John W. Brick Foundation and their review of more than 1,000 studies on the link between exercise and mental wellness, 89% found a significant positive association between physical activity and mental health

So, what do these benefits look like, and how do they protect mental well-being? We break them down below. 

Relieves Stress 

Stress is a toxic, silent killer. Chronic stress in the body leads to high cortisol levels and other stress hormones that disrupt almost all the body's systems. This upheaval can lead to obesity, heart disease, and other health disorders. Unfortunately, it can also usher in mental health issues such as depression. Regular physical activity is effective because it reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. This activity reboots the body's stress response, reducing the reactivity to psychological stressors—leading to better cognitive balance and calm. 

The latest research also reveals that people with stress-related conditions such as depression experience the most cardiovascular benefits from exercise. The study also found that physical activity enhances prefrontal cortex function, which helps regulate stress responses in the brain. 

Enhances Mood 

Exercise is also a powerful mood enhancer. It activates the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins and endocannabinoids, also known as “feel-good” chemicals. These little mood boosters can ease depression and anxiety symptoms, potentially preventing these conditions from recurring. 

Improves Sleep 

Regular exercise can significantly improve sleep quality. But first, why is good sleep crucial to positive mental health? Studies show that sleep deficits can change activity in some parts of the brain. When this happens, it can lead to a person having trouble solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and managing change. 

Sleep deficiency is also linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior. Research reveals that physical activity can counteract these issues because it contributes to better sleep efficiency, longer sleep duration, and quicker sleep onset. One study explains why

  • Physical activity releases endorphins, lowering stress and spurring better sleep. 
  • Exercise regulates circadian rhythms, and a rise in body temperature followed by a decrease helps to activate sleep. 
  • Physical activity stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, which are involved in relaxation, assisting in better sleep onset. 


Now that we know how exercise can protect mental health, it's time to spotlight its role as preventive medicine. 

Exercise as Preventive Medicine 

Engaging in regular physical activity lowers the risks of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Here is some notable research supporting these benefits: 

  • One study found physical activity is 1.5 times more effective at reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety than medication or cognitive behavior therapy. 
  • Research reveals that individuals with general anxiety disorder and PTSD had a noticeable reduction of anxiety symptoms with regular exercise. 
  • One study discovered that exercise of any intensity protects against future depression. 


Another way physical activity can lower the risk of mental health issues is by reducing inflammation. Immediately after exercising, the muscles release myokines, hormones produced by muscle tissue, which clean up inflammation. Through consistent exercise, the body becomes less and less inflamed. This is important because inflammation impacts mood by altering the production of serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). When this malfunction happens, it can be challenging to shut off the stress response. 

Creating an Effective Exercise Routine for Better Mental Health 

Understanding exercise's protective factors on mental health is only half the battle. The real challenge lies in building a routine that boosts physical fitness and promotes better mental health. 

Here are four easy guidelines to get started: 

  1. Start simple and work your way up. Even short bouts of exercise matter.
  2. Try different types of exercise until you find one that makes you happy.
  3. Focus on results like improved mood and energy level as motivation. 
  4. Maintain consistency. 

It's clear that exercise isn't just a powerhouse for physical health; it also protects against potential mental health problems. Whether a seasoned athlete or someone just starting out, remember that each step and stretch contributes to a stronger body and a more resilient mind. 

So, get out there and get moving!




This article is part of PAR’s Mental Health Awareness Month series, in which we will be focusing on the multifaceted issue of mental health in the U.S. Come back each week for more insight. 

Before the pandemic, reports indicated a concerning increase in mental health issues among American youth, including rising feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. There was already an approximate 40% surge in these factors before the COVID-19 pandemic introduced additional stressors such as social isolation, disruptions in daily routines, and economic strain due to caregiver job losses. These stressors led to a significant increase in mental health emergencies, with a 24% increase in emergency department visits for mental health issues among children aged 5–11 and a 31% increase among those aged 12–17. Suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12–17 also rose by 51% in 2021 compared to 2019. 

The issue of chronic absenteeism, where students miss 10% or more of instructional days per year, has only added to the existing problems. Before the pandemic, in the academic year 2021–2022, more than 66% of students attended schools where 20% or more of the student population was chronically absent. In 2023, 26% of students continued to be chronically absent. Mental health concerns are one of the reasons many cite for this increase in chronic absenteeism.

State Efforts 

Several states have responded to students’ mental health challenges by enacting laws allowing for mental health days. Minnesota took the lead in 2009 by passing a bill that recognized excused absences for mental health conditions requiring treatment. This effort has since expanded to states like Oregon, where legislation allows students to take mental health days without fear of penalties. 

The specifics of these policies vary among the 12 states that have implemented laws allowing mental health days, but some states have similar laws. Washington, Maine, and Virginia permit students to cite mental or behavioral health issues as valid excuses for school absences. 

California's Senate Bills 14 and 224 allow for mental or behavioral health days and incorporate mental health content into the health education curriculum. In Illinois, schools are mandated to grant students up to 5 mental health days annually and treat them as excused absences. Colorado passed a bill requiring school districts to establish policies for excused absences related to behavioral health concerns. 

Oregon allows students to take up to 5 days off within a three-month period, including mental health days. Connecticut allows for 2 mental health wellness days yearly, provided they are not consecutive. Arizona treats mental health days similarly to sick days, with policies varying across school districts. Nevada introduced Senate Bill 249, enabling students age 7–18 years to miss school for mental health reasons with a note from a mental or behavioral health professional. Utah acknowledges mental or behavioral health as a valid reason for an excused absence for all students. Meanwhile, Kentucky signed House Bill 44, permitting students to take days off from school for mental health reasons as excused absences. 

These varied approaches reflect states' diverse strategies to support students' mental health needs. However, despite the progress made by some states, many still lack specific laws regarding mental health days.

Impact of Mental Health on Learning 

Mental health can significantly influence academic performance, and stress and emotions are critical factors in the learning process. When properly managed, stress can improve memory and learning. However, when stress levels become excessive, they can disrupt concentration and memory retention, ultimately hindering academic achievement. Similarly, emotions like happiness or anxiety can affect learning. Although positive emotions can help, negative emotions can make focusing more difficult. 

The following are some of the critical ways that mental health issues affect students

  • Difficulty in concentration and attention: Young people coping with mental health concerns may struggle to maintain focus during learning tasks, leading to trouble controlling attention and completing assignments. 
  • Reduced cognitive functioning: Mental illness can interfere with thought processes required for classroom learning, such as problem-solving, recalling academic information, and persevering during challenging tasks. 
  • Academic underachievement: Untreated or undertreated mental health concerns can lead to reductions in standardized test scores, lower grades, and course credit deficiencies over time, ultimately affecting academic achievement. 
  • School absences and avoidance: Mental health issues may cause frequent absences from school due to illness or avoidance of school settings, which can disrupt the learning process and lead to academic setbacks. 
  • Behavioral challenges: The behavior of young people experiencing mental health concerns may interfere with learning and disrupt classroom environments, making it difficult for them to create and maintain friendships. 
  • Barriers to school completion: If mental health concerns are not addressed properly, they can make it difficult for students to finish school. This can lead to higher chances of suspension, expulsion, and failure to obtain enough credits, ultimately influencing their ability to graduate. 
  • Social and emotional skills: Mental health concerns can impair the development of social skills and executive functioning necessary for navigating school environments and transitioning to post-secondary education.

Benefits of Mental Health Days 

Advocates say that encouraging students to take mental health days can effectively address absenteeism and promote their mental health and overall well-being. And by making these excused absences, this can help parse which students are having mental health concerns from those who are actually truant. According to advocacy group Attendance Works, this can help create a more productive relationship between the school and the family by understanding the root cause of the absence, leading to better outcomes. 

The following is a summary of other benefits: 

  • Reduce mental health stigma: By implementing mental health days, schools can create an environment that acknowledges the significance of youth mental health and reduces the stigma surrounding mental health issues, fostering open discussions about these critical topics and ensuring students feel supported in taking time off for their mental wellbeing. 
  • Early intervention and support: Creating a separate category for excused absences related to mental health issues is important in signaling to school officials that a student may face challenges. This recognition is a crucial first step in facilitating early intervention and allowing educators to provide students with the necessary resources and support customized to their needs. With this categorization, students are more likely to receive the attention and care they need to thrive academically and emotionally.
  • Promotion of rest and autonomy: Offering mental health days is crucial for prioritizing student wellbeing and teaching valuable lessons in self-care. By fostering autonomy and resilience, schools can support students' overall health and success. 

In conclusion, although some states have recognized the importance of mental health days for students, there are still many disparities in legislation and implementation. No matter where you live, advocating for comprehensive mental health policies at the state level is critical to promoting a nationwide culture of prioritizing mental wellbeing in schools.




In honor of February being Black History Month, we take this opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments Black Americans have made in the field of psychology. Far too often, these contributions have been overlooked. The following are several notable individuals who are responsible for historic contributions to the field. These individuals and their work deserves to be amplified in order to build a future based on equity, inclusion, and opportunity. 

Na'im Akbar (1944–present): A clinical psychologist, Akbar has written extensively on the psychological and cultural aspects of African American identity and mental health. He is an internationally known scholar, author, lecturer, researcher, and expert. He created the Black psychology program at Morehouse University, Norfolk State University, and Florida State University. 

Kenneth B. Clark (1914–2005) and Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983): This pioneering husband-and-wife team conducted influential research on the impact of racial segregation on children. Their famous “doll study” showed that Black children, when asked to choose a doll most like themselves, would disproportionately choose White dolls. This research was used in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 and played a key role in exemplifying why racially separate schools were psychologically harmful and violated the 14th Amendment. 

John Hope Franklin (1915–2009): Franklin was primarily a historian, but his work on race relations and African American history contributed significantly to the understanding of the psychological impact of racism. President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Franklin also served on President Clinton's Advisory Board for the President's Initiative on Race from 1997 to 1998. 

Alvin Poussaint (1934–present): A psychiatrist whose research emphasized the impact of racism, Poussaint is well-known as an advocate for racial equality. He contributed to research on race and mental health and has been involved in efforts to reduce racial disparities in healthcare. He served as a professor and dean of students at Harvard Medical School. 

Inez Beverly Prosser (unknown–1934): Prosser was the first Black woman to earn a PhD in psychology. She spent much of her short life focused on research concerning the impact of segregation on the educational achievement of Black children. She was instrumental in helping Black students obtain funding for college and graduate studies. 

Joseph L. White (1932–2017): White has been referred to as the “godfather of Black psychology” due to the significant contributions he made during his career. Much of his work focused on the importance of addressing the needs of minorities through multicultural counseling. 

These are just a few individuals who have played important roles in advancing the field of psychology and addressing issues related to race, identity, and social justice. Their work continues to influence and inspire new generations of psychologists.


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This week, we welcome guest blogger Sylvia Hall from GAB-on! As a parent of a child with learning differences, Sylvia was able to take her family’s challenges and build a unique way to help families connect. 


In the delicate fabric of human relationships, connection is the thread that binds us together. It is a core, fundamental need for human development and helps us get the most out of our lives. For parents and children, communication is the cornerstone of the relationship that cultivates connection and the ability to give and experience love. 

Dr. Ned Hallowell says, “Connection should be the life blood of all families, schools, and organizations.” However, children with learning differences often face a lack of sustained connection due to their unique challenges. This disconnection can result in various struggles in their lives, including difficulties forming relationships at school, in their community, and within the family. Consistent and positive connections play a transformative role in empowering these children. Nurturing such connections over time, children can lead more connected, relationship-rich, and fulfilling lives. 

I’ve always described our son as a “boy full of joy.” He could light up any room with his smile and energy from the time he could walk. When he was entering sixth grade, he was so excited to begin the school year at a new school as he was eager to meet friends. 

After the first several days, a recognizable pattern emerged: “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing.” Although this dialogue seems to have become a rite of passage, for our family it wasn’t something we were comfortable with. We recognized that, although our son may desperately want to share parts of his day with us, given his executive function challenges (particularly in working memory), he was struggling neurologically to do so. 

Our son Austin inspired us to create GAB-on!, an app that connects children and their parents through simple, meaningful conversations about their daily experiences both in and out of school. We built it for all kids because these simple conversations can nourish healthy connections and conversations. 

Throughout the day, children enter GABs, short 3–5 word entries on any device such as a laptop, tablet, or phone, These serve as summaries of key events that occurred throughout their day to spark their memory at home to drive conversations. Parents receive the GAB entries and serve as a starting point for conversation. 

“Onion skin and lake water” was the very first GAB that Austin sent home. It was a game changer. It didn’t just spark a simple conversation about his day, it was a glimpse into his world. I was so curious to hear the story he wanted to share from his science class that night at the dinner table and it didn’t disappoint. We heard about walking down to a pond with his class and holding a vial to fill with water, bringing the vial back to class and looking at the water under a microscope, seeing a bug in the water and naming her Robeta, and then creating a newsletter to share Robeta’s journey with his classmates. 

We were in awe at everything he shared and what we learned, not just about his school lesson but about where that lesson led him. We felt so connected and I was excited to share our experience the next morning at school drop-off. However, as no other parents had heard any of this experience from their child, no one could share the excitement with me. 

Conversations between parents and children provide a window into the child's world. They allow us to understand our child's experiences, perspectives, and challenges. Conversations are a key ingredient in strengthening the bond between parents and their children. But child-led conversation opens a door to understanding where a child is challenged and, as importantly, where they find their joy. Developing a child’s voice and agency to communicate their interest and passion can help lay out an aspirational roadmap. They also enable the child to feel heard, understood, and know they matter. 

Trust and emotional security are fundamental to a child's well-being. For children who learn differently, these elements are even more critical. They often face additional challenges and uncertainties, which can lead to feelings of insecurity or anxiety. Consistent child-led conversations with parents can help alleviate these feelings. They provide a safe space where the child can express their fears, frustrations, and hopes. They reassure the child that they are loved, accepted, and valued for who they are. This cultivates trust and emotional security, which are essential for a child's emotional and psychological health. 

A few months into eighth grade, Austin entered a GAB that read “armor.” That evening we had company at the dinner table and, when the GABs came up for discussion, he didn’t recall what “armor” meant. I jumped in (not recommended) and asked if it had to do with his welding project and he nodded. The conversation then dove deeper into his welding creations, which he enjoyed sharing. However, the next morning at breakfast, Austin shared with me that he remembered what his “armor” GAB meant. It had nothing to do with welding. It was a reminder to talk with me about two boys in his class that were setting him up to take the fall for things they were doing in the classroom. He didn’t know how to prevent it or what to do about it, and sometimes he wasn’t even aware that it was happening. This conversation allowed me to help him navigate the steps he can take to change his situation (and also caused me to pick up the phone and have a discussion with his wonderful teacher). 

We developed GAB-on! because our son wanted to share his day with us while he was away from home but the tidbits he was able to tell us were like pieces from different puzzles. He didn’t yet have the tools to retrace and recall whole parts of his day and he didn’t know how to start to tell us about it. With the GABs, Austin has the agency to choose what he wants to talk about with us and a few words that he captures at school are enough of a hint to remind him of that moment later in his day. What starts out as a conversation about a lesson or activity in a certain subject often leads to bigger conversations. 

Conversations between parents and children with special needs are about building a strong, loving, and supportive relationship that nurtures the child's development and well-being. They are about empowering the child to express themselves, to help understand their emotions, and to navigate their world with confidence and resilience. They can change a child’s trajectory (and outs). Simply put, conversations build connections and it’s what both children and parents need most. 



Sylvia Hall is the proud mom of two teenagers and co-founder of GAB-on! GAB-on! connects and empowers children and their parents through simple, meaningful conversations about their daily experiences both in and out of school.


School psychologists play a key role in collaborating with teachers, parents, and other professionals to assess, diagnose, and intervene when a student may be at risk for learning disorders and dyslexia. Assessing and determining the appropriate educational placements for students influences their academic journey in an important way. 

Here are examples of some unique ways some schools are addressing the needs of students with reading and learning disabilities in order to set learners of all styles up for success.

Encouraging movement and passions 

In one K-8 school in Maryland, the schedule, the environment, and the curriculum are all designed to help students with language and learning differences learn to advocate for their specific needs. The school creates movement opportunities throughout the day to give students an opportunity to work out their energy and gather focus. 

Teachers also incorporate student passions and interests into their lessons in order to ensure a positive and creative school experience for students who may have felt frustrated or left behind in their regular public school environment. Some curriculum examples include: 

  • Integrating topics the students are passionate about into the lessons. 
  • Creating activities that utilize fine and gross motor skills during art class. 
  • Working on a passion project over the course of the school year. 
  • Integrating card games into the daily small group reading instruction.

Putting reading first 

Some charter schools are seeing success building their schedule around an extended period of specialized reading intervention. For example, a school in Staten Island, New York, has students attend an hour-long period of reading instruction, followed by an independent reading period that gives them time to apply the literacy skills learned. The groups are fluid and based on students' reading readiness levels. In order to make time for this extra focus on reading skills, the school day is extended an additional hour. 

Focusing on strengths 

According to Greater Good Magazine, it is critical that school psychologists work with students with learning disabilities to concentrate on their strengths. One way to do this is to put less focus on labels. Even a subtle shift in language can influence how students see themselves and help overcome any stigma they may feel. 

One article suggests that when a label is required, it is helpful to describe why it is needed to the student. One explanation can be, "Labels help us understand why reading is hard for you and what the research says about how to help. But we will all focus on what we can do to help, not what we call it." 

Another suggestion is to focus on a student's strengths. Research suggests these “hidden strengths” of students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities include: 


School psychologists are essential in supporting students' well-being, particularly for those students facing reading and literacy challenges. Learn more about how one school district was able to use the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) to help more students with literacy and reading concerns. 


Further reading 

Learn more about selecting appropriate reading interventions 

A quick guide for parents of struggling readers 

How targeted reading assessments can unlock student success


As we embark on a new year, people worldwide are establishing their New Year's resolutions. Although resolutions may be time-honored tradition, many resist the urge as an endeavor that is bound to fail. Let’s delve a bit deeper into the psychology behind New Year’s resolutions and what helps people to achieve their goals. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Forbes Health, the attitudes of 1,000 U.S. adults toward their New Year's resolutions and the types of goals they prioritize have undergone a significant shift. 

Although fitness and weight loss remain popular for the new year, 36% of participants expressed a commitment to improving their mental health. In fact, 55% of participants acknowledged that mental health should be given equal significance as physical well-being in their resolutions for the coming year. So, as we move into 2024, prioritizing mental well-being may be the focus for many.


The psychology behind goal setting 

The same Forbes Health poll also revealed that 60% of people feel pressured to set a New Year's resolution. Among these individuals, 37% have specific goals for 2024, and 66.5% plan to create 3 or more goals for the upcoming year. 

What drives people to set goals and make New Year's resolutions? 

Although the answer may be different for different people, there are some common factors for goal setting; these include: 

The fresh start effect: The “fresh start effect” motivates individuals to pursue aspirational goals immediately after a big landmark, such as at the start of a new year. These moments are natural opportunities for positive changes, and aligning with a time frame can help in working toward goals. Research on the fresh start effect show that creating these new mental periods of time helps individuals to put past periods of imperfections behind them and can help motivate aspirational behaviors that make it more likely to stick to those goals than ones that were made with no mental benchmarks. 

Purpose and motivation: Goals provide direction and purpose, driven by a fundamental desire for personal improvement and growth. This intrinsic motivation aligns with psychological theories emphasizing the natural human drive for fulfillment and self-actualization. 

Social connection and executive function: Goals foster social connection and are crucial for building communities. Whether in families, teams, corporations, or nations, shared goals are essential for collective success. Goal setting is integral to the brain's executive function, distinguishing humans by enabling planned and purposeful actions. 

Reward center and dopamine: Setting goals triggers the release of dopamine, commonly known as the “feel good” chemical. Dopamine helps to manage pleasure and reward centers in the brain while regulating emotional responses. Neuroscientists have found that pursuing goals can significantly impact our emotions as it triggers pleasure centers in our brains, regardless of the outcome. This suggests that pursuing a goal is just as important as achieving it, providing a biological basis for the well-known saying emphasizing the significance of the journey over the destination. 


Why resolutions fail 

A common reason people fail to achieve their New Year's resolutions is false hope syndrome. This happens when individuals, often fueled with overconfidence, set unrealistic goals, leading to frustration, and eventually giving up on the resolutions altogether. 

False hope syndrome is particularly common when resolutions are related to technology and the internet. Although there is so much technology to help people succeed at resolutions—such as online support groups, habit-tracking apps, smart watches, and social media platforms—these may create a negative circle of reinforcement. The ubiquity of these tools to make habit change easier may actually hinder resolution success. 

While it is important to remember that setbacks are a normal part of any journey, it’s also important to learn that failure can be a constructive part of the process toward eventual success and personal growth. 

Negative thought patterns also can stand in the way of achieving self-improvement goals. Always expecting failure can lead to negative thinking, undermining the outcome of our efforts. The internet can make this worse by reinforcing negativity. 


Creating lasting habits 

Surprisingly, too much support can hinder success. Studies suggest that an optimal level of assistance is more effective, emphasizing quality over quantity. Clear and specific goals also play a crucial role. In one study, researchers investigated New Year’s resolutions to understand how successful individuals were in maintaining their resolutions and whether specific support mechanisms could improve success. Participants were divided into three groups with different levels of support: Group 1 had no support, Group 2 had some support, and Group 3 had extended support, including guidance on effective goal setting, formulation of SMART goals, and information on the benefits of involving friends and family. 

The researchers aimed to determine if the support provided, including guidance on effective goal setting, influenced individuals' success in sticking to their resolutions. The study employed various measures, such as self-assessment of success, surveys on quality of life, procrastination, and self-efficacy, along with assessments of participants' confidence in achieving their goals. 

Results from the study indicated that individuals with approach-oriented goals (focused on achieving something) tended to be more successful than those with avoidance-oriented goals (focused on avoiding something). Interestingly, the group with some support performed better than those with extended support. 

Building on these insights, the following are practical tips to help you or those you support to stay on track with your resolutions. 


Tips for effective goal setting 

Set SMART goals: Set SMART Goals instead of resolutions. SMART goals refer to goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Be specific about what you want to accomplish and why it is important. 
  • Ensure measurability by quantifying progress toward the goal. 
  • Make goals achievable, breaking long-term goals into smaller, more manageable steps. 
  • Determine the relevance of goals in your current life situation, especially in professional settings. 
  • Set a specific deadline in order to create a sense of urgency and motivation to act and create a healthy reward system for meeting each small goal. 

Focus on one behavior at a time: Trying to change everything at once can be overwhelming and lead to discouragement, ultimately hindering progress. Instead, it's better to focus on changing one habit or behavior at a time, allowing for gradual progress and a greater chance of success in the long run. Taking small steps can lead to creating long-lasting positive changes. 

Share your experiences: Talk about your goals with family and friends. Finding support, whether a workout class or a group of coworkers with similar goals, can provide encouragement and understanding. Discussing your struggles and successes with others makes the journey less intimidating. 

Expect setbacks: Perfection is unattainable. Minor setbacks are expected when working towards goals, so don't give up entirely due to minor mistakes. Resolve to learn from your missteps and get back on track. 


Key takeaway 

New Year's resolutions are an excellent opportunity to set goals that align with our aspirations for personal growth and well-being, but goals can be set at any point in the year. With the right mindset and approach, any goal is achievable.


The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) recently published Specific Learning Disabilities Evaluation Principles and Standards, introducing a comprehensive framework for the assessment and identification of students with specific learning disabilities (SLD). These standards are a valuable resource for educators, psychologists, policymakers, and anyone interested in and involved with enhancing the quality of education and support for individuals with specific learning disabilities. 

The primary goal of this new framework is to encourage a transition from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more individualized and research-informed evaluation process that promotes better understanding, increased collaboration, and tailored interventions for students with SLD. 

These new principles and standards expand upon the existing mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by providing a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to evaluating and supporting students with SLDs. 

These guidelines emphasize collaborative evaluation teams involving professionals from various fields, including psychology, education, and medicine. They extend beyond the previous focus on identification and delve into personalized interventions that cater to each student's unique academic, linguistic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs. Additionally, these updated principles highlight the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity that have not been explicitly addressed in prior IDEA mandates.

The SLD landscape 

LDA research sheds light on the educational landscape for students with specific learning disabilities, revealing that they constitute 32% of the student disability population (National Center for Education Statistics, 2023). The research also reveals the persistent challenge of low student achievement; specifically, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data indicates a substantial disparity between students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. According to 2022 NAEP data: 

  • 70% of fourth graders with disabilities scored below basic levels in reading, compared to 32% of their peers without disabilities. 
  • There is an average gap of 38.5% between students with disabilities and students without disabilities who scored below basic in fourth- and eighth-grade reading. 
  • There is a 36% difference in the number of students with disabilities scoring below basic levels in fourth- and eighth-grade math compared to students without disabilities.
  • 64% of eighth graders with disabilities scored below basic compared to 25% of their peers without disabilities. 
  • 72% of eighth graders with disabilities scored below basic in math, whereas only 33% of their peers without disabilities did the same. 
  • 53% of fourth graders with disabilities scored below basic in math compared to 20% of their peers without disabilities. 

Additionally, this research underscores significant inequity for students with SLD, especially those from Black/African American, Latinx, or Indigenous backgrounds. These students are disproportionately marginalized in the areas of identification, intervention, and instructional processes compared to White students. 

Given this data, the team from LDA determined it was necessary to develop new principles and standards that not only identify the cause of learning differences but potential interventions.

The seven principles of SLD evaluation 

LDA created the new standards using seven foundational principles to create a common set of values among stakeholders with respect to SLD evaluation. These principles are: 

  • Interdisciplinary: Evaluations should be a collaborative process informed by multiple disciplines that have relevance to SLD. 
  • Research-informed: SLD evaluation should be informed by the most up-to-date research, using valid and credible methods. 
  • Consequentially valid: The result of SLD evaluations should be positive outcomes, whether an SLD diagnosis is made or not. The evaluation should result in greater clarity surrounding a child’s learning challenges and how best to support them. 
  • Dynamic and iterative: The evaluation, intervention, and follow up should be an iterative process. It is fluid, ongoing, and continual. 
  • Whole-child focused: Evaluations should result in a whole-person view, meaning that the information should be used in a comprehensive way that includes not just the cognitive perspective. 
  • Strengths-based: Equal attention should be paid to an individual’s academic and personal strengths as to their difficulties. 
  • Universally benevolent: All individuals should be treated equally regardless of circumstance, culture, limitations, differences, or difficulties. The process must be used to benefit students no matter what the outcome.

Eight standards for SLD evaluation 

Using these principles, the LDA team established the following standards for SLD evaluation

  1. Interdisciplinary collaboration: The standard emphasizes the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration among educators, psychologists, parents, and other professionals in conducting holistic SLD assessments. By involving various stakeholders such as psychologists, educators, speech pathologists, counselors, parents, and students themselves, this advocates for an interdisciplinary process. This approach ensures a holistic understanding of student's strengths and needs, promoting a more comprehensive assessment and intervention strategy. 
  2. A continuum of evaluation: SLD evaluation should be ongoing and iterative. Using assessment data, implementing targeted interventions, and employing progress monitoring techniques should create an atmosphere where diagnosis and interventions are being continually refined in order to be bidirectional and iterative. 
  3. Research-supported practice: This standard emphasizes the importance of content-specific research and the use of high-quality assessment tools. 
  4. Culturally informed: Evaluators should gather information on the student’s home language, their level of proficiency in the language of instruction, and make informed decisions on using assessments in the language the individual is most proficient in. 
  5. Embraces strengths: Evaluations should be holistic, taking into account the multiple domains and focusing on character strengths and motivations in addition to academics.
  6. Supported through comprehensive professional development: Professionals involved in evaluation should be up-to-date on the latest research and best practices. 
  7. Holistic understanding regardless of identification criteria: The goal of evaluation should be to understand a holistic view of the individual as a learner. Recommendations should be specific to the learner’s cognitive, social–emotional, and executive function strengths. 
  8. Leads to improved outcomes: The results of the evaluation should always be to create improved educational outcomes with actionable steps to improve academic and social–emotional functioning.

About this research 

The researchers involved in creating the principles and standards pursued a comprehensive strategy that interwove historical context, global viewpoints, and scholarly research. Their approach involved dissecting the progression of terms and definitions connected to SLD, delving into historical shifts in perspectives, and emphasizing the pivotal role of cognitive assessments in SLD evaluations. 

By integrating these insights, the LDA constructed a holistic model for the SLD evaluation process. This model encompasses guiding principles, assessment components, and avenues for future enhancements—the methodology aimed to establish a dynamic framework accommodating the evolving landscape of SLD evaluation practices and insights. 

LDA’s research highlights pivotal aspects of the evolution in identifying SLDs. These findings illuminate the shift toward a more inclusive, adaptable, and personalized approach to assessing and addressing learning challenges. This includes transforming SLD terminology globally in response to the growing importance of interdisciplinary teamwork and adopting innovative response-to-intervention (RTI) methods.

Summary of research findings 

The Specific Learning Disabilities Evaluation Principles and Standards is a comprehensive guide aligned with well-established research and practices in SLD evaluation. 

This research underscores the critical importance of incorporating qualitative and quantitative research methodologies while accounting for individuals' cultural and linguistic contexts. The outcomes of this research have the potential to significantly enhance the understanding and refinement of SLD evaluations, ultimately leading to more equitable and efficient interventions and support mechanisms for those grappling with specific learning disabilities. 

The outlined principles and standards offer evaluators a structured framework for conducting thorough and valid assessments of individuals with suspected SLD. An integral aspect of this approach involves employing diverse assessment methods from various data sources. 

Notably, the research advocates utilizing multiple assessment approaches, encompassing standardized tests, observations, interviews, and questionnaires. As a result of this multifaceted methodology, an individual's strengths, weaknesses, and distinct learning requirements can be comprehensively identified. 

Further elevating the significance of this work is its emphasis on the need to incorporate an individual's cultural and linguistic background during SLD evaluations. This inclusion fosters culturally responsive assessment practices that consider the influence of one's cultural heritage and linguistic proficiency on one's learning and academic accomplishments. 

The implications of these research findings extend to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers entrenched in the domain of SLD evaluation. This study provides important guidance to improve evaluations for people with learning disabilities, ensuring a fair and effective assessment process.



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McHale-Small, M., Tridas, E., S., Cárdenas-Hagan, E., Allsopp, D.H., van Ingen Lauer, S., Scott, K.,& Elbeheri, G. (2023). Specific Learning Disabilities Principles and Standards. Learning Disabilities Association of America. 

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 2023 National Report Card.


The changing landscape of workplaces has drawn heightened attention to the needs and expectations of employees nationwide regarding the issues of work–life balance and mental health support. 

The recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) sheds light on the prevalence of toxic workplaces and their detrimental impact on mental health. Of the data coming out of this survey, most startling was the revelation that 19% of workers reported their workplace as somewhat or very toxic. Even more alarming, those in such environments are three times more likely to suffer mental health harm at work than those individuals who are in nontoxic settings. 

This blog discusses the importance of these findings, what employers can do in light of this data, and the role mental health providers can play in supporting individuals facing toxic work situations.

Understanding the impact of a toxic work environment 

The APA survey brought to light the destructive toll a workplace can have on an individual’s mental well-being. 

According to the survey, more than one in five workers revealed they've suffered mental health harm at work. Even worse, reported cases of harassment have jumped from 14% in 2022 to 22% in 2023. More than two-thirds of employees report experiencing workplace stress in the last month, with 57% reporting negative impacts that are associated with burnout. 

Other notable findings from the survey include:

  • Discrimination is a serious problem, with 22% of respondents saying they witnessed discrimination in their current workplace and 15% saying they have experienced it themselves. 
  • Employees are still concerned about the impact of disclosing a mental health condition to their employer, with 43% responding that they worry about the impact it might have on them in the workplace. And 55% of employees believe that their employer thinks their workplace is mentally healthier than it actually is. 
  • Different job types face different kinds of challenges. Employees working in customer or client-facing roles may deal with verbal abuse whereas 10% of manual laborers reported being subjected to physical violence.

No matter the field, it is clear that employers need customized strategies to combat toxicity in various work environments.

Proactive steps for employers 

To foster a supportive and mentally healthy work environment, employers can take several proactive measures to combat toxicity and promote mental health: 

  • Promote psychological wellbeing. Organizations must prioritize mental wellbeing as part of company culture and offer benefits that support that. Keep your team informed about available mental health resources and openly promote a healthy lifestyle. Among employees who reported being unsatisfied with the mental health support provided by their employer, 57% intend to look for a new job within the next year. 
  • Encourage time off. It's crucial to create a culture that supports breaks and time off. By giving employees a chance to recharge, you can prevent them from burnout and keep the team thriving. Only 40% of respondents report that their time off is respected
  • Foster a positive work culture. Create a positive environment that embraces respect, empathy, diversity, and open communication. Nurture a culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated. Provide objective and subjective resources—both tangible benefits and cultural support. 
  • Avoid micromanaging. More than 40% of workers report feeling micromanaged during their workday. Of those who feel micromanaged, they report increased levels of workplace stress. 
  • Combat discrimination and harassment. Prioritize strict antidiscrimination and antiharassment policies. Training for all staff increases awareness and sensitivity. Make it clear there is zero tolerance for discrimination and set up confidential channels for reporting incidents so anyone who is experiencing this can report it. 
  • Offer work–life harmony. Promote work–life balance by offering flexibility where possible and giving employees a sense of autonomy over their work. Respondents who said they were satisfied with their level of control over how, when, and where they do their work were much more likely to report that their overall mental health level is good or excellent (79%) compared with those who reported being unsatisfied with their level of control (44%). 
  • Establish connection and community. Fostering a sense of belonging among employees is crucial. Employers can organize team-building activities, create employee resource groups, and host social events to strengthen bonds and create a supportive network within the workplace. 
  • Provide opportunities for growth. Offering career development programs, training, and mentorship opportunities is vital. Employees who see growth prospects within the organization are more likely to stay engaged and satisfied, reducing turnover and promoting overall wellbeing.


The role of mental health providers 


For mental health providers, it's essential to address the challenges faced by individuals who are working in toxic environments. Some notable numbers from the survey: individuals who reported a toxic workplace were more than twice as likely to report that their overall mental health was fair or poor than those who did not report a toxic workplace (58% versus 21%). Of those who reported working in a toxic environment, 76% also conveyed that their work environment has a negative impact on their mental health. 

Here are some strategies you can use with individuals who are experiencing workplace stress that impacts their mental health: 

  • Identify workplace-related stressors. Mental health providers should be vigilant in recognizing signs of workplace-induced stress, anxiety, and depression during therapy sessions. Understanding the work environment helps tailor interventions effectively to address specific challenges. For example, employees working for nonprofit and government organizations were more likely to report a toxic workplace than those in private industry, whereas those in upper management were less likely to report a toxic workplace than individual contributors or front-line workers. 
  • Validate and empathize. Clinicians should validate and empathize with individuals experiencing toxic workplaces, helping them recognize that their experiences are real and valid. 
  • Provide coping strategies. Equipping individuals with coping mechanisms to manage workplace stress and navigate difficult situations is crucial. Techniques such as mindfulness, boundary setting, and self-care can significantly improve wellbeing. 
  • Address trauma. Mental health providers play a vital role in supporting those affected by workplace violence or harassment, aiding in trauma processing and resilience building. Providing a safe space for expression and healing is paramount. 
  • Advocate for self-care. Promote the importance of self-care, whether that means encouraging individuals to find an outlet through exercise, hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones to offset workplace stress. 
  • Encourage connection. Although most workers are satisfied with their workplace relationships (89%), more than a quarter of employees report feelings of loneliness or isolation. Nearly 94% of workers say it is important that their workplace be a place where they feel they belong. 
  • Explore career alternatives. Dealing with a toxic workplace can be tough. If it's getting to be too much, mental health providers can guide individuals to explore new career options or even help them consider changing career paths. 
  • Collaborate with employers. Providers can consult with employers to develop customized mental health support programs. This collaboration ensures the organization addresses the specific needs of its workforce, creating a more targeted and effective approach.


What now? 


The results of the APA survey underscore how widespread the problem of workplace stress has become and emphasize what a toll a toxic workplace takes on mental health. Although workplaces tend to be one of the greatest areas of stress, they can also drive change by emphasizing the importance of self-care and wellbeing. Those involved in the mental health field can provide support to individuals who are experiencing workplace stress but also need to be cognizant of their own workplaces, as well. It's time to shape healthier work environments that empower everyone to thrive. 

Need help hiring and developing your team? Let InVista help! 


Further resources 

American Psychological Association. (May 2023). 2023 Work in America Survey.

U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being. (2022).

PARiConnect for research.jpg

PARiConnect, our online assessment platform, can help you expand your reach when doing research! 

Expand your geographic reach 

By using PARiConnect, our digital assessment platform, you can email HIPAA compliant links directly to research participants. This enables you to complete research assessments online, expanding your geographic reach to areas you may not be able to use otherwise. This also allows you easier access to observer and collateral research data without requiring additional individuals to make the trip to your data collection site. 

Reduce unused assessment costs 

If you email an assessment link to a participant who decides not to complete it, PARiConnect allows you to easily revoke the link and reuse that assessment with another participant. You won’t have to pay for an unused assessment like you might with a paper form, saving you money typically lost on unused assessments. 

Improve data integrity 

When participants enter their own data, it reduces the time needed for data entry and reduces the possibility of data entry errors. PARiConnect offers settings to prevent skipping questions, so you can reduce the risk of missing data. Furthermore, you can review completion time to be sure your participants put forth appropriate effort. This can reduce the amount of time and energy needed to enter and check data, freeing up your financial and physical resources for other tasks. 

Integrate efficiently with your work 

The PARiConnect system allows you to download item-level assessment data to a CSV excel spreadsheet that is formatted to integrate with statistics software such as SPSS for ease of data processing and analyzation. 

Let PARiConnect help you increase your geographic reach, expand your subject numbers, reduce attrition, lower assessment and travel costs, and decrease the burden of data collection. 

Learn more about PARiConnect today! 


Need assistance selecting assessments for your research? Learn more about all the ways PAR can help! Check out this video on using PAR assessments in research settings. 

Learn more about PAR’s training and research discounts!


This week’s blog was contributed by Erika Thompson, PAR’s managing production editor. It is the third part in a series on writing. Catch up on parts one and two. 

As a mental health practitioner, you are required to write throughout your career. One way you can streamline your writing is by using a style guide. At PAR, the house style we use for all our publications is based on American Psychological Association (APA) Style. Via the PAR Blog, we’re providing some useful information about facets of APA Style that will help you tackle research, write better reports, and communicate more effectively with colleagues. 

This week, we’re covering some questions our editors frequently get asked about APA Style. 

I can never remember the rule about numbers! When should they be numerals and when are we supposed to use words? 

The general rule is to use numerals for numbers 10 and above and words for numbers zero through nine. However, there are exceptions. Ages, dates, and time should be expressed in numerals, even if they’re below 10: 3-year period, ages 18–25 years, 3:45 a.m. The same goes for numbers representing mathematical or statistical information: 5%, 0.45 of the sample, the 9th percentile. Any number that starts a sentence should be expressed in words, even if it’s 10 or above: “Seventy-six students took the test.” 

A hyphen and a dash are the same thing, right? 

Nope! The hyphen and the two dashes (en-dash and em-dash) look different from one another and have different uses. 

A hyphen is used to divide or link words and letters to form another word. Writers are sometimes confused about whether to use a hyphen to link prefixes and suffixes to root words—for example, “nonsignificant” versus “non-significant.” In general, APA style dictates that most prefixes and suffixes do not require hyphens, so “nonsignificant” is standard. Hyphens are also used to indicate negative values (with a space before it but not after it; e.g., -4). 

En-dashes are longer than hyphens. They’re used in text and tables to separate ranges of values, including those for age ranges and page numbers (including in reference lists; e.g., “See pages 3–4.”). En-dashes are also used instead of hyphens between words of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g., “test–retest”). 

Em-dashes are the longest dashes. They’re used to set off an element added to extend or to digress from the main clause (e.g., “I spoke to him at length—at least 45 minutes—about this topic.”). They do not have to be used in pairs (e.g., “It was a chilly day—downright freezing, really.”). 

Here’s a handy hint: You can type an en-dash on a PC by holding down the Alt button and then hitting the numbers 0, 1, 5, and 0 in sequence, and you can type an em-dash by holding down the Alt button and then hitting the numbers 0, 1, 5, and 1 in sequence. (Wondering about the minus sign? It’s actually a special character in Word—it’s not the same as an en-dash, a hyphen, or any other symbol.) 

What’s the best way to report “partial ages”? 

I’ve seen it done a few different ways. In the testing field, it’s standard to present partial ages. Though some publications use commas, at PAR we find them to be confusing. So, we use colons instead—for example, “11:6” means 11 years, 6 months. When presenting a range of partial ages, it’s best to use “to” between them, to avoid any confusion (e.g., “11:6 to 11:11”). 

Can someone explain what a dangling modifier is? I know I learned this in high school… 

Modifiers seem complicated, but they’re actually simple. Modifiers are adjectives or adverbs (in the form of words, phrases, or clauses) that describe or limit nouns and verbs in the sentence. They must be placed directly before or after the word they are modifying—if not, the result is a misplaced modifier. For example, in “Riley only told Jade and Colin about the surprise,” the placement of “only” indicates that the only activity Riley did was tell Jade and Colin about the surprise, but the intention is to express that Jade and Colin were the only people Riley told. The sentence should be recast as: “Riley told only Jade and Colin about the surprise.” 

If the word the modifier is intended to modify doesn’t appear in the sentence at all, the result is a dangling modifier. For example, in “Using a saw, the wood can be cut easily,” the modifier “using a saw” is connected to the subject, “the wood.” However, readers know that wood doesn’t use a saw—people do. The sentence should be recast to include a logical subject: “Using a saw, I can cut the wood easily.” 

What’s the most common error you come across? 

Some of the most common errors we see in writing can be categorized as parallelism errors. “Parallelism—the matching of sentence parts for logical balance, especially by using grammatically coordinate structures—helps satisfy every reader’s innate craving for order and rhythm” (Garner, 2022, p. 801). This comes up frequently in lists—both bulleted and in sentences. 

In a bulleted list, begin each entry with the same part of speech and, as much as possible, retain a similar sentence/phrasing structure. For example, use a verb to begin each entry:

Steps to improve morale 

  • Ask for reactions and questions. 
  • Share your insights. 
  • Create a plan to follow up.

In sentences with lists, each entry should be the same part of speech (e.g., “The test is reliable, comprehensive, and easy to administer” [all adjectives]). One very common mistake is the improper insertion of a sole second verb in a listing sentence: “The test is reliable, comprehensive, and takes only 30 minutes to administer.” The verb must apply to all entries, or each entry should have its own verb. There are many ways to fix this… 

  • The test is reliable and comprehensive and takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable, is comprehensive, and takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable and comprehensive; it takes only 30 minutes to administer. 
  • The test is reliable, comprehensive, and short, taking only 30 minutes to administer. 


Do you have a style or grammar question you’d like us to answer? Email me anytime at

Interested in partnering with PAR for research or publishing? Visit our Partner with PAR page to learn more. 



American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). 

Garner, B. A. (2022). Garner’s modern English usage (5th ed.). Oxford.