by Ary Hammerman
Disclaimer: The following is written by an 8th grader in Lisa Levine’s Honors English class.
It’s 11:30 p.m. and a tear slides down your face as you struggle to finish memorizing the equations for the math test tomorrow. You know that you should sleep to be able to focus, but your anxiety demands that you keep studying out of fear will fail the test. You still have to write an analytical paragraph for English, fill out a data table for science and you haven’t even had the chance to eat dinner. This crippling feeling is all too familiar to many students, including myself. But when you lay your head down on your desk tomorrow during school for just a second, will your teachers stop to think about what might have caused this exhaustion?
Mental health is somewhat of a taboo topic still. This notion can be an extremely harmful message to be sending to teens in the current age of social media, as it is a relatively new form of communication that can promote unrealistic and unhealthy lifestyles forcing young-adults to compare themselves to others.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, “one in five youth have a mental health condition, with half of these mental health conditions developing by age 14. Yet, fewer than half of youth with mental health conditions have received any kind of treatment in the past year.”
The question arises, how can mental health be such a large and recurring problem in this day and age? Perhaps because mental health professionals are in extremely high demand. However, I can attest from personal experience that there might be another, equally troubling reason. Adults often overlook mental health conditions in children and teenagers, saying they are too young to have these illnesses. In fact, rather than agreeing to work with their children to improve their health, many parents use various excuses for why their kids are struggling, such as: “you have such a good life. Why should you be sad?” or “I have done too good a job parenting you for you to have anxiety” or “you’re just lazy, not depressed.” These are extremely unhelpful responses. When parents yell, their teen’s anxiety or depression can worsen, causing them to regret opening up to their parents, thus creating a damaging cycle. Both parents and children need to be better trained on how to handle mental health issues.
A possible solution to this lack of knowledge is to require schools to teach a course on mental health. According to a 2018 article by Darron Cummings, New York and Virginia have started requiring schools to include some type of mental health curriculum into health education.
The sad truth about today’s society is that, although social media has created incredible connections for many who would be otherwise isolated, these platforms have also spiked anxiety and depression rates among teens as a result of the portrayal of unachievable and fake levels of perfection. While people are making strides to include this influential education in schools, many educators are simply not doing enough. At TLS, mental health is not talked about until students enter high school, which for some is too late. Furthermore, some teachers assign a lot of work without considering students’ mental health or the many challenges that occupy students’ minds. Therefore, I urge my fellow students to have more open conversations with teachers and peers about anxiety and work to normalize these issues.
Homework frequently leads to my stress taking over and preventing me from performing the best I possibly could on the task. I find myself rushing through this work that has, over time, become a chore, telling myself that I will redo it over the weekend when my time is more flexible. When this work fully overwhelms me, I try to practice what I preach and work with my teachers to complete my work as efficiently as possible. For example, during the stressful preparation for my Bat Mitzvah, many of my teachers gave me extensions and helped me get through the work that piled up through the days I missed. Though it was nerve-racking to walk into some classes unprepared, my teachers were extremely kind, and I was able to finish all my work in time with their support. Sometimes all it takes is a quick email to help you get back on track. However, schools need to work on giving students the necessary tools to complete their homework in a better headspace on a regular basis, not just when they miss school.
A 2014 article in the LA Times stated that on average, public high school students receive three hours and 30 minutes of homework a night, and also participate in extracurricular activities. Schools should assign homework to help students further their academic abilities, but could there be better ways to construct the homework system to allow for kids to make mistakes and give in to exhaustion every once in a while without it ruining their grades?
I understand that time is scarce in many schools, but I believe implementing calming practices into students’ schedules will make the entire school function more productively. A possible solution is to include a meditation or yoga period into the school day, which some schools in England have already done. Even if it is 10 minutes long, these relaxing activities have been proven to improve mental health and increase creativity. Another answer to this problem is to supply teachers with the knowledge of how to help kids with anxiety or depression who don’t have anyone else to turn to.
I think educators must be better taught how to recognize when students may be struggling with mental health issues and what strategies they can use to help the students, rather than humiliating them. Students need to be taught that it is okay to be struggling, and it’s not something to be embarrassed about. By rarely talking about these important issues, it has become a form of social suicide to discuss mental health. I often hear my friends making insensitive comments about others who are breaking down in the hallway because they have so much homework. I overhear others gossip about a girl who hasn’t been at school because of her eating disorder and I feel horrible for people whose personal issues are nothing more than a source of mockery among their peers. If you were the one wearing the same clothes two days in a row because of your depression, would you want your peers to laugh at you? We must join together to solve this mental health crisis and become a happier society.