The constant pressure to obtain acceptance into a prestigious university can perpetuate high school students’ fears about their futures.
One in five American students struggles with one or more mental health disorders, according to the Association for Children’s Mental Health, a support and resource center for youth combatting mental illness. For every 1 in 10 affected students, a mental health diagnosis can severely impair a student’s ability to learn, handle academic pressures, and earn high grades, according to the ACMH.
Despite this statistic, most students who face mental health obstacles do not seek help, whether that be in the form of school counseling, medication or behavioral therapy, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country’s largest grassroots mental health organization. According to the Pew Research Center, as many as 80% of youth who need mental health services do not receive them.
Mental health disorders can have a serious impact on students’ ability to graduate on time. According to ACMH, only 40% of students with mental disorders graduate from high school while the national average for neurotypical high schoolers sits at 76%.
Arcadia High School is, what senior Kaitlin Lee refers to as a “pressure cooker.”
“Students here tend to set high expectations for themselves due to the pressure they feel from other students,” Lee said.
Arcadia senior Tiffany Thai supports Lee’s statement.
“The competitive environment is not bad per se but it can have negative consequences,” Thai said. “Most students are handling their crazy schedules amazingly” but admits that this isn’t the case for everyone. Many students don’t know how to manage their time and handle stress properly and I think this affects students’ mental health negatively.”
Speaking with one of Arcadia High School’s two mental health counselors, Counselor Timothy Crosby states that he and his colleague strongly urge parents to “check-in with their kid frequently” and “recognize warning signs such as staying in their room a lot, sleeping a lot and irritability.”
Crosby agrees that social media is partly responsible for the mental illness epidemic among young people. He cites “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out, “unrealistic beauty standards” and “cyberbullying” as the facets of social media that can cause a decline in young people’s mental health.
He said that some students also “consume negative news coverage via social media, which can corroborate the idea that the world is unsafe and thereby, result in the perfect recipe for anxiety.”
However, he declares that it for some students social media can be supportive and it entirely depends on the person.
“Enough sleep, a healthy diet and the ability to manage educational demands can dramatically better students’ mental health,” Crosby said.
When asked about the greatest challenge that his department faces, Counselor Crosby explained how some parents advocate for their child, but do not trust the advice of the school staff.
In regards to the resources provided by AHS, Crosby states that AHS is comparatively “average to above average.” He confidently describes staff collaboration as above average, despite having joined the counseling team only three years ago.
When asked if they think that AHS has done a good job of advertising its mental health resources, students gave mixed responses.
“AHS has done an OK job at advertising their mental health resources and has organized various activities at school once in a while to urge students to take a break and relax,” senior Anisha Karunananthan said. “However, I think there could be more resources available to us every day instead of just a few times a year.”
Lee’s response provides a striking contrast.
“Absolutely not,” Lee said. “I know far too many stressed-out, anxious, depressed, even suicidal kids here at my school. There’s only one week spent on mental health and I’d laugh if anyone said that was helpful.”
She also puts into perspective the environment evident at Arcadia.
“The toxic environment here is so heavily influenced by the anti-mental healthcare unfortunately perpetuated by Asian cultures [and] many people are afraid to look for help,” Lee said. “Students either don’t care or have the actual knowledge of where to find help … And I don’t either.”
Thai emphasized Lee’s comments.
“Considering the increasing numbers of high school students with mental health issues that are left unattended, I think AHS definitely has a long way to go,” she said. “In this day and age, burdened by schoolwork [and] the influence of social media, a lot of students don’t know how to deal with the stress that comes with being a high school teenager and don’t know where to find resources. Promoting the school’s mental health resources and introducing new ones can help a lot of students immensely.”
Mental health issues can be triggered or worsened by the stress and fear perpetuated by an academic model that urges students to fixate on their futures. Based upon students’ responses, to defeat the invisible enemy that is a mental illness, we must approach the issue seriously and provide widely-accessible resources to students and their parents.