In January, 41 out of 50 Oak Park High School students surveyed said they were stressed about classes and college applications. (Danielle Rees / Oak Park High School Talon)
Oak Park High School

Minds Matter: Oak Park students emphasize importance of school’s mental health resources

One of the leading causes of the rising rates of anxiety and depression for students is schoolwork, and stress for the future, an issue that countless students at Oak Park High School struggle with.

Of 50 students surveyed at OPHS in January, 41 said they were currently stressed about “one or more of their classes, or college,” and 28 said they “have/had dealt with anxiety or depression before.”

Oak Park High School junior Lindsey DiConti said she feels that one of the main reasons for teen mental health issues is “the lack of importance” given to mental illness in society today.

“Mental health is such a glossed over and romanticized topic that needs to be addressed more seriously,” DiConti said. “There is such a stigma surrounding any type of mental illness that only isolates those of us who struggle with it even more.”

Junior Naomi Lin said the quality of education in Oak Park comes from the “unhealthy” emphasis on grades, and the amount of pressure placed on students in the district.

“I truly believe that the reason why Oak Park is the best public school in the county is due to the culture that has developed through the students. We genuinely believe academic scores are what defines us, and therefore risk all of our mental and physical health toward high marks,” Lin said.

DiConti said there are changes that school administration and teachers should consider to help alleviate stress, and to minimize anxiety and depression in students.

“I think that teachers often underestimate the ubiquity of mental illness in schools, and could help more by giving us less homework and more grace for our mistakes,” DiConti said.

Additionally, the issue could be resolved in part with more education of mental illness offered to younger students.

“If mental health issues were addressed earlier in life, I believe that suicide rates would plummet, shootings would decrease, and people would be better equipped to succeed in their future lives,” DiConti said.

According to Psych Central, approximately 20% of teens experience depression before they reach adulthood. A teen takes their own life approximately every 100 minutes, making suicide the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, according to Psych Central.

However, according to AP United States History teacher, Dr. Victor Anderson, teachers can only try to alleviate stress in the classroom.

“I try to lead a stress free environment. I tell stories, and tell jokes or I’ll lighten the mood. I’ll make sure that [students] aren’t taking it too seriously,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, the difficulty of the course itself is not something that teachers can alter.

“The material is stressful in itself, but, as a teacher, I try to make the environment less stressful for you, definitely. And that’s the only thing I can really control, [because] the subject matter is difficult, and that I can’t take the stress from,” Anderson said.

Teachers can only control the environment in their own classroom, and their responses to situations out of their control.

“The only thing I have in my control is the environment, [and] the way I react, I’ve never once gotten upset. I’ve never raised my voice. It’s just the type of environment, I try to make it as stress free as I can.”

While it is evident that the pressure placed on students is one of the causes of the mental health struggles that teens face, some Oak Park students have hosted events to raise awareness of mental illnesses.

Upperclassmen and Advanced Peer Counselors Amber Arquilevich and Megan Johnson held an event on October 10, National Mental Health day, spreading awareness of the stigma associated with mental illness.

“I think it’s really important to remember that mental illness is exactly that — an illness,” Arquilevich said. “Like, you don’t choose it, you are burdened with it. And we need to remember that there’s nothing wrong with getting help.”

As well as offering a location for such events, to spread awareness of the issue, Oak Park High School contributes many other systems to help students with mental illness.

“Our school is definitely doing a lot to try to help students with mental illness. There are so many places for our students to go, and to talk about it. Even if you may not be comfortable with like a teacher or counselor, we have Safe School Ambassadors, and Advanced Peer Counselors that are always available,” Arquilevich said.