Essay on Mental Illnesses and the Impact They Have on Students

As you walk through the halls, students are seen vacuumed sucked to their screens, checking their notifications every few seconds. Groaning like zombies, sounds of frustration roar through the halls as the bell for first period rings. You’d think this was the Walking Dead. You’d be wrong, it’s a school. A high school, to be more specific, where students are trying desperately to maintain their social lives and keep up with their grades too. They are expected to stay on top of classwork: APs, extracurriculars, preparing for college and other soul-draining activities. While juggling both may come easy to some, for others it could be life-threatening.

The inability to balance school work and a social life causes stress which “can increase the risk of developing depression if you aren’t coping well” (Hall-Flavin). Because of the overwhelming amounts of stress, numerous teenagers believe the only way out is suicide. With suicide being the second-leading cause of death for high schoolers aged 12-18, teachers and trusted adults become the source for help. Teachers do not acknowledge mental illnesses and the impact they have on students. Because of this, teachers should be required to take a training program before working with students in a classroom or offer alternatives for certain assignments.

A concerning problem occurring in schools today: teachers caring more about a student’s grade rather than their mental health. In a survey conducted, more than half of the students responded that teachers care more about grades rather than their comfort (Mental Health Survey). Class presentations seem to be a big part of the school’s curriculum now a days. Students who excel in public speaking are the ones to get the better grade, but the students who don't project as well seem to plummet. Some could argue that presenting in front of a class is good practice and is something we should all have to do.

Easy to say for someone who doesn't suffer from a mental illness. Getting up in front of an audience doesn't just make people with anxiety anxious, it makes “their blood pressure elevate for 90 minutes” (Onion) which can be damaging to the heart. When students with anxiety hear that there is a presentation coming up, their hearts sink to their stomachs. In their mind, they have already failed. Then when the students turn to their teachers for help, they seem to get the same lousy, brushed off answer. 

Teachers try to “understand” something they’ve never experienced before, and end up making the situation worse (Onion). From personal experience, teachers try to reason/relate with the student stating that they “too get nervous sometimes” but then go to say that presenting in front of an audience will be good practice for the real world. These types of conversations feel like talking to a brick wall. Talking out into space, with no real help in the end. We walk away feeling unaccomplished and more anxious than before. Thoughts of failing swirling around our minds. Self doubt comes out to play to tell us that we are just stupid and overreacting.

Students confide in their teachers considering they are around them for up to eight hours most days of the week. A mental illness that goes unidentified often will interfere with a student’s ability to learn, yet “most teachers are not trained in the subject at all” (Lahey). When a teacher fails to acknowledge that a student is struggling in the classroom, they are disregarding mental health as a whole. Teachers are the polluters of the school system, giving hours of homework to the fish that are just trying to swim peacefully day to day.  Students struggle balancing their schoolwork and mental health (MH Survey).

Being unable to handle all of the work they are being put through by teachers, principals or their peers “teens with depression are likely to drop out” (Weinstock). If dropping out isn’t something they can do, they turn to suicide as the only way. In our nation, “there are an average 3,000 attempts by students” (Jason Foundation) not including grades lower than ninth. When a student attempts suicide, schools view it as shocking or unexpected. Yet, four out of five students who attempt suicide show or showed clear warning signs to doing so. The problem isn’t kids that have untreated mental illnesses, the problem is the school system’s negligence. 

A possible solution to helping students with anxiety is to give them more options/alternative assignments. Alternative assignments include essays, presenting only in front of the teacher, or even creating an art piece that goes along with the curriculum.  This way the student will feel more comfortable in the classroom, which minimizes their stress. The older generation needs to consider the fact that students today are in a completely different learning environment and that “anxiety is increasing at a faster rate than depression as the leading mental-health issue affecting teenagers” (Lorenz). Pushing these students into uncomfortable situations when they are already anxious is like fighting fire with fire, it just gets worse. In a survey conducted, out of 37 students, 90% have considered skipping a class because of an assignment/presentation (Mental Health Survey). If students are able to complete an alternative assignment then they will feel like they are cared for and receive better grades. 

In school, we learn that knowledge is power. We are taught there is no such thing as knowing too much. Then why is it that, as said before, “most teachers are not trained about mental health in their formal education and degree programs” (Lahey). Anyone can have a mental illness and by teachers learning more, they could reduce stress for themselves and those around them. Others believe it’s not worth a teacher’s time and that it will take too much money to learn about another subject. What they fail to realize is that every five years, a teacher is required to renew their teaching license and the price is only twenty-five dollars.

When you educate students and teachers on mental health, you see “improved attitudes towards treatment and a boost in overall mental literacy” (Levine) according to a now-permanent experiment done in the Hamilton Southeastern School District. The administration spends more time focusing on their star athletes and the position of the county nationwide than they do their suffering students. Students think that if their schools cared more about them, as individual people, they’d work better in the learning environment and feel more comfortable talking to superintendents (MH Survey). Whenever school systems put in effort to teach their students and staff about the ins-and-outs of health, both sides benefit from it. 

In conclusion, teachers should complete a mandatory class on mental health when they are working towards their teaching certificate as well as offer alternative assignments. Since teachers have to take classes every few years to update their knowledge, it wouldn’t be much of a hassle to add one more. Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated as such. Statistically, cardiac arrest victims calculate to around 383,000 people a year (CPR); whereas, suicide attempts calculate to around 1.4 million people a year (AFSP). This wide gap shows that mental health needs to be taken more seriously. Then when teachers become more knowledgeable on this topic, students will face less stress in situations that can be avoided. If teachers offer alternative assignments then the students grades will rise without added pressure/stress.



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