by Jessica Zhang, Staff Writer, April 2021
The stress from competition between classmates and juggling numerous responsibilities in high school has indisputable negative effects on teenagers’ mental health. Besides spending hours every night on homework and preparing for tests and quizzes that often end up on the same day, students have to balance a multitude of extracurricular activities. Furthermore, when students compare themselves to each other, it creates a competitive atmosphere, forcing students to wonder whether they are good enough. With impossibly high expectations for students to perform well, the pressure can quickly build to unbearable levels. The pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing mental health issues at Nobles.
School culture is an important part of student life, and some feel that the academic environment at Nobles is not conducive to good mental health. “It’s kind of a hierarchy with who is most compromising their well-being to succeed in other areas,” said Ava Neal (Class III). She clarified, “I always hear people comparing how little sleep they got or how long they’ve been working or how stressed they are.” A culture of comparison and competition amongst the student body is something that is difficult, if not impossible, for the school to amend.
But there are other areas in which the school could be doing better to support students. “It can be a little frustrating when there is an emphasis on taking care of yourself and taking care of your mental health, and yet we keep getting slammed with work. It’s kind of two different messages. It’s like, ‘We’re stressed too, guys, we get it. But also, do four tests in a week,’” Neal said. This complaint about mixed messaging is a common one among students.
Some, however, feel that the problems are not Nobles-specific but rather are just a byproduct of high school. “School in general, like any school, is hard and stressful and competitive, and Nobles is all of those things,” Mary Batty (School Counselor) said.
Anya Cheng (Class I) who leads Nobles Heads Together (NHT), the school’s mental health awareness club, holds a similar opinion that Nobles follows the stereotype of being a challenging and stressful high school environment. However, she also believes that the school could break apart from traditional high schools’ stress-inducing reputations by improving upon its homework policy. “It adds extra stress to students,” Cheng said. She elaborated, “We already spend so much time at school and in our afternoon programs that when we get home, we shouldn’t be spending the rest of our night just doing work. And I notice that my mental health gets worse when I’m spending my entire day doing school-related things.”
Many students are also struggling to manage feelings of isolation as a result of the pandemic. “Everywhere from seniors to sixies, kids are dealing with that feeling of not being involved to the extent that they used to be in all their activities at Nobles,” Cheng said. She continued, “Whether that manifests itself in actual, diagnosable mental health conditions like depression and anxiety or you’re just feeling down, and you’re feeling isolated, I think that it’s just been really hard for Nobles students to deal with.”
One big factor contributing to mental health issues and feelings of isolation is online school. Although this is a necessary safety precaution, studies have shown that spending more time looking at a screen increases depression levels. And despite the connection that social media allows us to have, it’s not the same as in-person interactions. For one, online interactions often occur through passive engagement in a way that is similar to watching television, which is shown to decrease mood. Also, online communication does not promote sharing on a more personal level, which is an important aspect of building close relationships.
The school is currently taking several approaches to work on supporting students’ mental health. NHT started a newsletter this past year to address specific mental health issues, such as men’s, women’s, and back-to-school mental health, more fully. “Sending something out to the whole community makes it really hard to ignore, and it gives people actual resources and it gives people facts, data, and statistics, which helps de-stigmatize [mental health],” Cheng said. NHT also runs a confidential discussion group for students interested in discussing mental health issues called Mind 2 Mind (M2M).
Another great resource for students to utilize is the school counselors. “[The main part of] my job is just being here to support kids in whatever capacities they need,” Batty said. She emphasized the importance of students reaching out and talking to someone when they are struggling. She also thinks it’s essential to put more focus on preventative measures instead of waiting to take action until after someone starts to feel depressed or anxious.
There are also some individual strategies that can help students remain motivated and feel less-stressed during this challenging time. Neal likes to play music, sing, stretch, and meditate. When she’s feeling unmotivated, she will take her work one step at a time and start with the easiest thing so that she doesn’t get overwhelmed. Cheng sets personal boundaries, for example, not doing homework past 11:00 PM and evaluating whether certain things are really worth the amount of stress they cause.
Whether these strategies apply to you or not, it’s important to remember that everyone can struggle with their mental health and that it’s both okay and important for you to reach out to others when you’re struggling.