Ensuring the health and safety of students should be a top priority for all high schools. Yet, an aspect of it has often gone neglected—the mental health of students. Arcadia High School (AHS) is no exception.
The city of Arcadia consists of a predominantly Asian-American community, with the emphasis on education ingrained in the culture. The outcome—a highly academically competitive atmosphere with most students aiming for the same top grades and colleges. As a result, the school has been well-known for its ability to procure many high-achieving graduates.
But, for many students, there have been side-effects.
“I felt the pressure of growing up in Arcadia,” said AHS senior going by the name of Vicky Fu. “Ever since [I was] young, I was drilled with the idea that I would have to get into college.” She recalled the many times in her childhood in which after school, she would be sent off to her aunt’s house by her parents to do extra workbook practices. Oftentimes, they would constantly bombard her with questions such as “How are your grades?” and “You have an A-; do you need tutoring?”
Fu describes it as attrition, saying how “it all wears you down bit by bit.”
The pressure was not from parents alone. Starting in middle school, Arcadia’s math system splits into two pathways. Selected students could take Algebra Honors; the rest take the normal Pre-Algebra class. Fu began to see it as an “honors versus not-so-smart people“ system “and sadly, I was part of that not-so-smart group.”
Her parents kept pushing her to get into that honors class, “even though I didn’t want it. Everybody was trying to force me into it.”
She did end up landing in the honors system the next year but ended with a C grade. She was then advised to drop. From that point on, “I felt I wasn’t good enough, I felt I wasn’t smart enough, and my mental stability went really low,” said Fu.
She still stuck with the honors route, but she began to get more upset and hateful about herself.
“Everybody was taking AP classes, summer classes, a bunch of extracurricular activities, and other things. I felt pressured to catch up.”
Her self-hatred at her own perceived stupidity and her constant comparing with peers grew even worse, and it continues to this day.
“All this hatred, I’m just holding it all in, and it’s causing me a lot of stress,” said Fu, who is known as a very magnanimous person. “Honestly, it sometimes feels like I can’t turn to anybody, not even my trusted parents.” Her parents, like so many in Arcadia, are part of the cause of this pressure.
However, she admitted that much of the pressure now comes from herself.
“All of this piling up is just built into me,” she said. “I can’t stop it anymore. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. I constantly feel I’m beneath others, so I want to do more and more to catch up.”
While her resume may look impressive, she said she is unhappy. “I always feel sad or depressed. Even when I go out of the house to have fun, all the stuff I have to do is always in the back of my mind.”
She plans to major in the medical field once in college, even though she doesn’t like science. “I feel like my parents are forcing myself into a future I don’t want to have,” she said. “I feel my future is chained.”
Fu is only one of the many students that have endured this type of struggle. The forces of parents and academic pressure are prevalent, causing extreme workload, lack of sleep, stress and mental deterioration.
The school, however, makes a clear distinction between stress and mental health. “As far as mental health, that is generally best handled by mental health professionals” said principal Dr. Brent Forsee. “We do have school counselors and a school psychologist for 3,500 students, and that is why we refer out [to mental health professionals] when we see a need.”
With stress, Forsee sees it as mainly in control of the parents, but “we encourage parents at just about every parent meeting to be aware of stresses… and to help children make healthy decisions,” he said.
It should also be noted that it is the students themselves that sometimes are too afraid to act up and seek help.
Fu, however, feels that the school “doesn’t talk much about [mental health],” and would like to see a more aggressive confrontation of the problem.
Solutions offered by many AHS students include more interaction between staff and parents regarding this issue, more intake of student opinion within these interactions, but most importantly, many feel that the school should help serve as a bridge of communication between students and parents.
However, Fu knows it’s easier said than done. “After all, this whole system is hard to change,” she said.