High School’s Effect on Students’ Mental Health

February 12, 2017
By , Pittsburgh, PA

No one ever wants to be pushed to the point where they have to question whether their life is worth living anymore. Suicide should never be a thought that crosses anyone’s mind, but it occurs way more often than people might think, particularly in high school students. High school is a very important time for growing and developing physically and mentally. It is the job of schools to challenge and teach students, so they can grow into successful, intelligent adults. But when is it too much? Mental health is a “state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity” (Smuskiewicz). Without good mental health, everything else starts to fail. So shouldn’t students’ mental health in this delicate time of development be a priority of high schools? High Schools’ staff should make students’ mental health a priority and supply students with resources for mental health help because assigning too many tests and too much work can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Overloading students with excessive amounts of work can lead to unhealthy stress. High school students get assigned several hours worth of homework and projects a night on top of everything they did in school that day, which causes a lot of stress every night. First, high school students do more than just go to school and do homework. High schoolers spend five days a week going to school for seven hours per day. When they get home, they want to be able to sit down and relax for a little, but they end up having to do three and a half more hours of school work (Stainburn). That is ten and a half hours a day on average spent doing school work. Some students get even more. It is unrealistic to expect a teenager to spend almost eleven hours doing school work. That leaves little to no time for stress relieving. It barely leaves enough time for basic human needs like eating and sleeping. Then on top of that, most students at North Allegheny participate in a sport or do another activity that has after school practices everyday. Most sports and extracurricular activities practice anywhere from an hour to two hours per day. After those long, tiring practices, students do not want to have to come home and spend the rest of their night doing school work because they are worn out and tired and sore from exerting their bodies. In addition, many students work late at part time jobs. So they get home, go to work right away and some do not get home until ten o’clock p.m. Add those three and a half hours and that puts them at about one o’clock a.m. They still have to shower and get their belongings ready for the next day. If students are spending all their free time doing homework, it leaves no time for stress relieving. As a result, the built up stress is very likely to lead to much worse problems.

Similarly, excessive work loads can push time limits and cause anxiety. High schoolers do not have enough time to do as much work as is expected. To start, high schoolers are too anxious about getting their work done to get a healthy amount of sleep each night. Teenagers need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep a night; however, on average they only get seven to seven and a half hours (Teens). Students tend to stay up late because teachers will not accept late work, so assignments that cannot be completed on time are automatic zeros in the gradebook. Those few homework points add up quickly and can really hurt someone’s grade if they are consistently getting zeros. So instead, the students will stay up as late as needed in order to get everything done to maintain their grades. They can begin to feel anxious as they watch the clock tick by. Every minute that goes by is one less that they will be able to sleep, and as a busy teen, every minute counts. To add to that, teachers have increased the amount of tests given. Of course, it is logical and expected that students are tested on what they are learning, but when it is too much? Perhaps when fifteen percent of the school year is spent testing, not including quizzes (Hefling).  Students have to study for these tests which adds on top of the already three and a half hours of homework already assigned, which in turn subtracts less time from sleeping. Lack of sleep has a direction correlation with mental health and focus, so if students are not getting enough sleep they will be more susceptible to feeling anxious and not being able to focus in class (Teens). Students’ inability to focus during a test will make them feel anxious about not finishing which could cause them to rush in panic and not do as well as they could have. A lot of teachers assign daily quizzes or homework checks and those few points add up quickly, so if a student is not able to focus, they will have built up anxiety from fear that their grade will drop. To add on top of that, some teachers assign ridiculous amounts of work to be completed in a short time. Of course it is to be understood that the workload increases as the level of course increases, but some teachers expect a student to be able to read a four hundred page book in a few weeks, on top of every other assignment they have.  Then, most teachers do not know how to deal with students with anxiety disorders which can scare students and trigger them into having an anxiety attack (Gupta). Speaking from experience, one of the worst feelings is having an anxiety attack and no one knowing what to do. A student will not feel comfortable in a classroom if they know they are not completely safe there. So, the child can start to feel anxious or nervous which will take away from their focus and learning ability. Students should be provided an equal learning opportunity, and no student should feel unsafe in their place of learning. Consequently, too much work can cause anxiety problems which can hurt a student academically and emotionally.

All of the stress and anxiety from being assigned too much work can eventually lead to depression. Depression does not just randomly start up; it comes from an accumulation of minor daily inconveniences or it can be because of a major life change, usually negative (Brent). To start off, “Exposure to stress and failure also are likely to influence adversely children's perceptions of their competence” (Rudolph). Students are directly affected by their environment and people around them, so when a student is failing to complete assignments due to stress and anxiety, they can begin to doubt their self worth (Rudolph). Especially if a teacher or other students call them out for incompletion of assignments or not doing well on tests. Negative feedback from parents and teachers about school work can increase feelings of depression. A student may be doing the best they can, but parents and teachers continually telling them it is not good enough is not doing anything positive for their well being. Instead, teachers and parents should ask what they can do to help and encourage the student and teach the student how to cope with stress so it does not lead to depression (Rudolph). To add to that, depression is not an open topic in school. Teachers do not talk about it or teach how to cope with it (Smuskiewicz). As a junior in highschool, there has only been one class in the curriculum that even mentions depression, but they only briefed over it. The teacher told students that if they are feeling depressed, to talk to an adult about it. Students, and depressed people in general, are not likely to seek help (Smuskiewicz). Several hundred years ago, depression was thought to be caused by demonic possession, and although now people know that is not the case, the bad reputation of people with depression has remained (Smuskiewicz). Students think they will be thought less of or pitied if they seek help, so telling them to speak to an adult is not going to help (Smuskiewicz). It is far more effective to use anonymous programs to help because students will not worry about being judged (Kramer). It is also important for schools to post resources such as suicide and depression hotlines. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, but a lot of people do not know it exists. Why would someone not share that number if it could save someone’s life. To top all of this information off with probably the most important point, “major depression accounts for 60% of suicides” (Brent). Suicide is never something to be taken lightly, but it seems to be taken a lot less seriously than it is which is terrifying for suicidal people. As someone who attends high school, it is very common to hear other students say something along the lines of, “I’m so done; I’m going to kill myself.” Now, they rarely ever mean that legitimately, but that is not something anyone should say or even think. Suicide has become so normalized in schools, and that is not okay. About twenty-five percent of students have suicidal thoughts, with approximately 10% who actually associate those thoughts with a plan to make that attempt (Brent). How in any way is that acceptable? Why would any adult not think it is important to provide help for these students? Depression is never something to be taken lightly when the outcome can be so drastic.
Some could say that students might take advantage of the school and use mental health as an excuse when they did not actually have any problems, which is a completely reasonable concern. It is not tolerable for students to take advantage of the school whatsoever, but when a student’s life is at risk, that is a chance that needs to be taken. What is more important, a student’s life or a math test? Imagine being that school official who has to explain to wet eyes that the school pushed their child too far. Imagine being the parent who lost their child. Is it worth it to not take students’ mental health seriously?

Mental health is not something to be taken lightly because it starts small but can escalate to very big, very serious problems very quickly. It builds off of smaller things, such as stress or anxiety, and can lead up to a potentially dangerous state of mind like depression. So, talk to or email the principal or someone in charge at your school. If you are a parent, talk to your student about their mental health. Consider contacting the principal or counselor at your child’s school. Encourage them to offer help for students suffering with mental illness. Schools need to provide resources like suicide and depression hotlines and therapists. Schools also need to start accepting mental health issues as a valid reason for missing an assignment or not being ready for a test. Do you want the next person you see on the news to be from your school?

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