Author’s Note: As a sophomore at U-32, I see symptoms of mental health issues daily in my peers, my friends, and even myself. This deeply disturbed me, so when presented with a research project in my democratic roots class, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore. In this article I explore the question How does school affect mental health? I do this by telling the story of various students, a teacher, and a Licenced Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).
Now, more than ever before, high school students, and younger, are suffering from severe stress and mental health issues. Why is that?
School has always been stressful, what makes this point in time so much different? According to the Association for Children’s Mental Health, “many estimates show that even though mental illness affects many of our kids aged 6-17( at least one-half ), as many as 80% of them do not receive the mental health care they need.” At first, these results shocked me, but then I sent a survey to U-32 high school student body the results pretty much reflect what the ACMH found. More than 50% of students in our school struggle with mental health at my school!
I interviewed some of my fellow students Isabel Giammusso (10th grade), Charlotte Bodin (11th grade), and Hannah Rea (10th grade). Some of their answers were:
Stress as a Student
“But it’s become so typical, like you know, me saying to you, ‘Oh my gosh I’m really anxious.’” says Giammusso.
“I remember coming into school like, ‘guess who got four hours of sleep’ And someone will be like, ‘I got three.’ And then the other will be like, ‘Yo, two for the third day this week!’” says Bodin.
”The thing is like, yeah that’s the weird thing. Like with internet culture, everyone’s like, ‘KMS (Kill Me Slowly) this Saturday; I have a test’ Everyone’s like, ‘mood’… [but] there are my friends who are like actually suicidal.”
“Since I was a young kid taught how to control my emotions…. If you’re feeling sad, then you have to get over it. That’s how it is in my family. That puts me in a really tough situation socially. Because I never deal with my emotions; I don’t know how to help people who are dealing with their emotions.” Rea had said.
“These students could be completely overwhelmed with time management and expectations of classes and the course load. Schools play a huge role in directly correlating mental health,” said Meagan Falby.
“Not everyone is speaking about this at home. It’s stigmatized. It’s labeled. It’s a — we don’t talk about it. And if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen. As a school, it’s a place where students can be educated on health content. We still have a ways to go… The more we can talk about it, the more we can normalize it, so that the kids that are feeling like they’re in a place where mentally they aren’t feeling solid, there doesn’t have to be shame that goes with it. It can be a place of acceptance– that we’re all humans.”
Technology in Mental Health
“We’re seeing suicide rates at a higher level than we’ve ever seen. Screens– the world of constantly being connected … a constant comparison of, ‘do I look okay enough?’ ‘What’s this persona I’m putting out into the world?’, I think that can take its toll on kids– teens massively. Never being good enough, never having enough likes.”
Author Jean Twenge notes that, for the generations that have grown up digital, the smartphone has radically altered “every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.”
This whole new concept of the internet and social media presents a set of issues humanity has never faced before.
Thoughts from a LICSW
In a phone interview with Gretchen Baumgardner, she shared that she had seen a lot more teenagers struggling from depression and anxiety. Prioritizing mental health seems to have become less of a concern within the last 5-10 years. When I asked about schools and their effect on mental she gave a laugh, and we started to talk about how schools aren’t dealing with suicide and depression the way they should. We aren’t talking or learning from the events that are happening around us.
“How is a child supported in their particular way of learning?” she asked. “It is a tragedy we are teaching students to do all of the same things, instead of celebrating their differences.”
“They don’t encourage what is the greatest strength we can have,” Baumgardner says. When asked what the most important thing to do when teaching was, she said to listen, and respect everyone’s specialties, use them, and be open to working with them. If we listen, we can learn what it is that helps them learn.
Association for Children’s Mental Health. “Problems at School.” ACMH, 2019, www.acmh-mi.org/get-help/navigating/problems-at-school/. Accessed 7 Jan. 2019.
Bethume, Sophie. “American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults.” American Psychological Association. American Psychology Association, 14 Feb. 2014, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/02/teen-stress.aspx. Accessed 7 Jan. 2019.
Jacobson, Sarah, editor. “Stress Among High School Students Rising to Dangerous Numbers.” Spotlight, 18 Dec. 2017, slspotlight.com/our-world/2017/12/18/stress-among-high-school-students-rising-to-dangerous-numbers/. Accessed 7 Jan. 2019.