Artwork by Danny Armendariz (10).
Over the years, school has become more challenging and time consuming for students. According to Business Insider an average high school senior today graduates with around 27.2 credits, while the average high school senior in 1990 graduated with around 23.6 credits. In that time, there has also been an 8% jump in students taking rigorous course schedules.
This change was most likely caused by how competitive the college application process and the job market can be. This level of competitiveness has now reached high school students, leading them to put their school work above all. This mindset isn’t healthy for a lot of teens in school, and the higher expectations and demands of school work have been shown to trigger depressive episodes as well as high levels of anxiety, according to Everyday Health.
Students have come to believe that their school work should always come first, and that their mental health should come later. This ideal is rooted in the way students are taught, how mental health is addressed and taken care of at schools, or even how our schools are built.
Some public schools were designed like factories and follow the same structure of sitting in rows, following a bell schedule and walking in lines.
“The way our schools look on the outside look like factories… and there were some schools where I grew up in New York that had no windows at all,” Brianne Welser, 10th grade AP World History teacher, said. The structure of our schools alone can affect our mental state.
Past school structures, the workload assigned, and rigorous core classes add to the stress of students. Students begin to see their work as increasingly more important than their own well being. Some think the only way to have a healthy mental state is to have good grades, even if the way they’re going about it is detrimental to their mental health.
“The biggest thing is like if you take a mental health day, you’re behind,” Emily Gentry (11) said. “Many times it [putting work above mental health] can lead to mental breakdowns… it can also lead to you having a general decline in your school work. We live in a society where mental health is like something that’s made up, and we think that because mental health isn’t something that’s prioritized in our everyday lives it doesn’t need to be prioritized in school.”
The act of putting mental health after school work comes from the neglect mental health faces everywhere. Mental health isn’t even something spoken about and can hardly be prioritized, so when that same way of thinking enters schools it becomes much harder to open up about how much school stress is truly impacting you. This mindset can lead students to more harmful behaviors to cope with stress or attain high grades.
“I know a lot of my friends end up sacrificing a lot of sleep and time,” Helen Foster (10) said. “If you think that college and being able to get your grades to be the best that they can be is your goal, I think sacrificing your mental health sometimes is the only way to achieve that.”
This type of harm done to oneself is normalized making students think that this is an adequate way to achieve their goals. Students begin to believe that their higher grades mean more than if they are mentally stable. It’s more common to see students doing all their work while being under unhealthy amounts of stress than to see students putting themselves first and going to talk to someone for help. It’s when you hear students say they want to kill themselves while doing work instead of taking a break from their work due to anxiety/depression from school work, or when you see someone depriving themselves of a healthy amount of sleep in order to pass, or hurting themselves in other ways in order to cope with the stress.
“It’s an issue that you encounter as a teacher,” Toufic Chahin, high school math and engineering teacher, said. “There are many students that are very obviously unhealthily stressed and teachers do see this. This isn’t something that’s hidden, this is an obvious fact that needs to be addressed.”
According to Time, students are having increased rates of anxiety, depression, and many other mental health issues that could be directly related to school. This issue cannot continue to be ignored. We have to address this issue and help begin to fix the education system by listening to the voices of students instead of brushing off their mental illnesses as laziness.
Schools can start helping improve the mental health of their students by teaming up with counselors to provide additional resources for students, such as outside support groups and websites both administration and counselors can endorse. Counselors can also work with teachers to ensure that their classrooms can be safe environments for student. They can help develop coping methods teachers can pass on to students when in positions of stress. Together, the administration, counselors, and teachers can address ways to help students manage a healthy balance between their mental health and their school work.
“Listen to students,” Welser said, responding to how schools can help improve them mental state of their students. “Invest in counseling. Continue to move in that direction and allocate funds for mental health and just giving students freedom.”