How Public Schools Are Affecting Mental Health

I’ve touched on the topic of the public school system’s effect on adolescent mental health before in my post, “The Mental Health Crisis,” though my discussion was brief. I decided today that I would devote a whole post to this subject. I’ve been passionate for a long time about how the school systems across the United States seem to sweep mental health problems under the rug. So, how has the school system affected mental health, how are they helping, and how can they improve?

How schools are worsening mental health

I have had the privilege of being homeschooled since kindergarten, but I’ve seen the ways in which mental health can be affected by the stresses and faculty of public or private schools. Have you ever asked a highschooler, “Do you enjoy school?” and they reply with “I love it”? Yeah, I didn’t think so. While there are different parts of school that may be enjoyable for some people, like sports or clubs, the all-around high school experience doesn’t seem to have a very positive effect on children in this day and age. Adolescents are expected to maintain good grades in numerous classes, participate in clubs/sports, eat healthily and exercise, study, possibly put up with bullying and harsh teachers, and make time for family and friends, all to get home and start on homework. How in the world are kids supposed to maintain good mental health when adults are expecting so much of them? This isn’t something that’s been happening for decades. Sure, our elderly community had plenty of hardships, but the competitiveness and expectations that are placed on children now are absurd. Classes are harder and more credits are needed, social media and cyberbullying has taken over, colleges are harder to get into, and it seems that constant anxiety and depression have settled into the minds of our adolescents.

When you search on Google, “School makes me” and look at the suggested searches, you will see the most googled searches by school-aged kids who are honestly confused about why school makes them feel “anxious”, “tired”, and “depressed.” This is the reality of most public school systems, and it breaks my heart. As I’ve mentioned before, studies have shown that the average high school student today has the level of anxiety that a psychiatric patient had in the 1950’s, and suicide in youths is the second leading cause of death, surpassing homicide. This has to change. We must make a transition to protect our current and future generations. 

In this time in teens’ lives, we are being shaped into the adults we will become. Our environments and company mold our minds. Our routines and role models are what we rely on to survive and succeed. So what happens when teenagers are shaped and molded in this vulnerable time by harsh environments, unconcerned and rude teachers, and constant questioning and scrutiny? Well, this happens. Our current state is what happens when we ask too much of children and only praise academic success. This is what happens when we don’t let children get any rest and place unswerving judgment upon them. This is what happens when we don’t take into consideration the emotional and physical capacity of human beings, especially young people. How exactly are public schools attempting to help the dwindling mental health of their students?

How are public schools attempting to help?

Looking from the outside in, it would seem that nothing is being done to help the mental health of students. How are we improving mental health services in schools? How are we making sure that the suicide rates are dropping instead of climbing? Well, the school systems’ answer to the mental illness rates in schools is a school counselor. I’m not saying that school counselors can’t be helpful, but it is strange that even with a professional hired to help, rates keep climbing. Counselors aren’t always certified therapists, but they are trained in dealing with detecting abnormalities in behavior and doing their best for the development of students. Not only are the shortcomings of many counselors disappointing, but the lack of training for teachers and other faculty to spot mental illness in their students is limited. Imagine if every employee of every school took mental illness seriously. Imagine the difference it would make in so many families’ lives. 

How can the school system improve?

I think the school system has much room to improve. Here are some ways I believe that school administrators can improve the way that schools approach educating and helping the steadily-climbing mental illness rates.

  • Conduct frequent and thorough evaluations of teachers and other employees to make certain that students aren’t being mistreated
  • Require meticulous training for employees on how to spot and reach out to a struggling student
  • Start mental health clubs, programs, and support groups. There are clubs for everything under the sun. Why not start one that could provide support and understanding?
  • Educate students on mental illness. Help students to understand mental disorders. We should also educate them on how to seek help. This will help break the stigma, as well.
  • Expect less. I’m not saying that students don’t need homework, but excessive amounts of homework right after a full day of learning is exhausting and unnecessary. Don’t expect kids to have loads of energy when they’re spending 7 hours of every weekday at school. Don’t expect respect if you’ve been disrespectful first. Don’t expect us to be perfect.
  •  Longer holidays could be very helpful for kids. It seems like every year, breaks get shorter and work gets harder. Kids just need to rest sometimes, just like adults.
  • Give students a certain amount of mental health days. Allow them to put themselves and their health before school, without getting reprimanded.

Thanks for reading! 

Again, I am sure there some great schools and counselors out there; it just seems to me that the majority of school-aged kids and teens are very stressed and unhappy with their environment and expectations. I pray that one day this will change, and peoples’ eyes will continue to be opened on the seriousness of adolescent mental illness. I hope you enjoyed this article! Don’t forget to follow the Instagram for this blog, @thanxiousteensofamerica. I hope you have a good week!

           -Kylee

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