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Stress Among High School Students Rising to Dangerous Numbers

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Homework can be a large stressor for many students.

Homework can be a large stressor for many students.

Sarah Jacobson

Sarah Jacobson

Homework can be a large stressor for many students.

Sarah Jacobson, Our World Editor

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Throughout a student’s high school career, they are presented with many responsibilities to juggle: academics, extracurriculars, a social life, and more. But how exactly do these factors affect their mental health?

The number of high school students claiming to experience an overwhelming amount of stress has gone up from past generations, and there are two main lines of thought stemming from this. One theory is that access to mental health services is increasing; therefore, the numbers of those being diagnosed with anxiety disorders or struggling with excess amounts of stress are rising because more people than in prior years are able to be diagnosed.

Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization that gathers and reports data and information about individuals with mental health issues, reports that recent healthcare reform, such as the Affordable Care Act, has enabled more Americans to acquire access to mental health services, and has thus increased the number of people diagnosed with mental illnesses or dealing with overwhelming amounts of stress.

“There are certain times of the year you can definitely see that most students are stressed and overwhelmed. You can just kind of sense it in the classroom; everybody is kinda burned out and done,” AP Psychology teacher Mr. Matthew Cooper said. “There could be lots of variables. I know certain times of the year they might have lots of tests or projects due, and that happens.”

Another theory is that stress and anxiety are generally worsening among high school students as the years go on. In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began interviewing incoming freshmen about their experiences during their final year of high school. They asked the students if they had “felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do,” to which 18 percent of students said that they did. In 2016, 41 percent said they felt overwhelmed during their senior year, which is a significant increase among students that could occur due to a variety changes from generation to generation.

“A lot of stress can put a lot of weight on your mind. [Stress is] like a burden; it’s very emotionally taxing and that can affect you physically as well,” sophomore Dominick Varano said. “If I get too much school work or I’m really busy with a lot of stuff I‘m involved in, in school and outside of school, that can cause me stress, and that becomes a burden on me emotionally, physically and mentally.”

This increase in stress can be harmful to students’ health. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that stress can cause headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, and, if stress is severe enough, even viral infections such as a cold can occur.

Another consequence of long term stress is mental illness. NIMH reports that anxiety and depression await those who have a both a large amount of stress and poor coping skills.

“I try to talk to people as much as possible [to destress], or read and take my mind off of whatever is stressing me out,” junior Nicolette Gallo said. “I try to do things that make me feel comfortable.”

There are ways to manage stress, but studies show that American high school students are not very good at applying these strategies. In one 2013 survey by the American Psychology Association, 42 percent of teens stated that they are not doing enough to manage stress, or are not sure what to do.

“I feel like [the school] helps [students with mental illness] a lot with their problems, but I don’t think they help students who don’t have mental health problems cope with their stress enough,” junior Natalie Kroboth said.

Managing stress is not an exact science, and it is often based on an individual’s preference, but The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a few tips. They recommend getting at least eight hours of sleep a night and eating healthy to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. They also recommend exercise, listening to music, and other relaxation techniques to help reduce stress.

“Stop checking Sapphire [daily for grades],” English teacher Mrs. Sheryl Ciotti said. “I feel like [Sapphire] leads to more anxiety. Grades fluctuate all the time, and it stirs students into a frenzy when they see their grades fluctuate even a little bit.”  

There’s no clear answer as to whether the rates of stress and anxiety or access to mental health care is increasing. What is clear is that there are steps students can take to help manage their stress before it escalates to mental illness, essential to preventing the rise of anxiety among American high school students.

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Stress Among High School Students Rising to Dangerous Numbers