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Stressed and Depressed: How The School System is Increasing Instances of Stress and Depression in Teens

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A Visually Engaging Introduction

Background

What is Depression?

“Depression, otherwise known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a common and serious mood disorder. Those who suffer from depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Aside from the emotional problems caused by depression, individuals can also present with a physical symptom such as chronic pain or digestive issues. To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks” (Shelton).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM5) is the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 is used by healthcare professionals both in and out of the U.S. to diagnose mental disorders. It contains everything from descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM-5 lists the following criteria that an individual must meet in order to get a diagnosis. Five or more symptoms must be experienced in the same two week period, and at least one of the symptoms has to be either “depressed mood” or “loss of interest or pleasure”.

Depression DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

“1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide” (DSM-5).

The Rise of Stress in High-schoolers

You and I probably feel it every single day. The feeling of anxiety creeping up behind us when a big test or assignment is coming up. It’s a feeling that is probably familiar to every high school kid, whether you live in the U.S. or China. It’s no wonder that in America, “60 percent of teens said that having to manage too many activities was a “somewhat or very significant” stressor, 83 percent of teens said that school was “a somewhat or significant source of stress.” Twenty-seven percent reported “extreme stress” during the school year, though that number fell to 13 percent during summer. And 10 percent felt that stress had had a negative impact on their grades” (Shapiro). This rise in stress is something that I can feel on the campus of my school. The constant bustling of students from class to class, hallway to hallway, day to day, reminds me that we rarely have any time to breathe. Once one assignment is out of the way, we are handed the next without any reprieve. This is the way that our system prepares us for the experience of college. We are practicing feeling stressed, feeling anxious, and feeling tired in high school, when the stakes are slightly lower.

The Rise in Depression in High-schoolers

The seemingly constant feeling of anxiety has to lead somewhere, and all roads seem to lead to an increase in the rates of depression amongst teens. According to a study conducted by Jean Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, “five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age did that were surveyed back during the era of the Great Depression” (Center for Discovery). Along with that, the “hospitalizations for mood disorders among children ages 17 and under leaped by 68 percent between 1997 and 2011”, and “approximately 15 million children across the country are suffering from some kind of mental disorder” (Mahnken). The staggering numbers and sharp increases of mental health disorders sound off all of the alarm bells in my head. What is happening to high school age kids that have led to such a dramatic increase in emotional turbulence?

The Connection

So statistically we can see that clearly there is a rise in both the levels of stress and instances of depression amongst teenagers these days, but why?

Lack of Mental Health Resources/Support

There is currently a lack of support/resources for mental health in schools. In public schools, counselors are overworked and understaffed. As the stress levels have gone up, the support should have gone up with it. But according to the National Association of School Psychologists, there should be a “ratio of no more than 700 students per school psychologist when comprehensive mental health services are being provided, the ratio across American schools in 2014–15 was estimated to be nearly twice that. Teachers, already responsible for academic achievement and classroom management, typically receive little training in dealing with mental health problems” (Mahnken).

Correlation between Stress and Depression

Studies have shown that increased levels of stress, from either homework, lack of sleep, a more sedentary lifestyle, stress from college, extracurriculars, etc, can have a profound effect upon an individual’s likelihood of developing depression. Therese J. Borchard, author of Beyond Blue writes that “‘Most experts would agree with me that there is more stress today than in previous generations. Stress triggers depression and mood disorders so that those who are predisposed to it by their creative wiring or genes are pretty much guaranteed some symptoms of depression at the confusing and difficult time of adolescence'”(Center for Discovery).

What Does Stress Look Like at Head-Royce?

I conducted a survey at my school that was sent out to all 93 people in the class of 2019 in order to get a better sense of people’s stress levels. 41 of them responded:

What Can We Do?

Foster Social Connections

  • According to Dr. Daniel Keating, “The single most effective route to providing a more resilient developmental pathway for students with a history of adversity is through positive social connections. Schools can provide a crucially unique setting to support resilience, offering an opportunity for students to connect with teachers, coaches, and mentors who exhibit caring and concern for students, communicating to them that they do matter to important adults in their lives” (Keating). I think that it is important to recognize that humans are very social creatures, and in the face of adversity, we do better when we are united. It is important to make sure that teenagers are developing social support systems that will ensure a safe place to talk and discuss stressful situations. We are all in this together.

Improve Support Systems in Schools

  • The SHAPE System stands for School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation System. It is a resource that is available to every school in America. The SHAPE system is hosted by the National Center for School Mental Health, commits to trying to understand and support comprehensive school mental health policies and programs that are innovative, effective, and culturally and linguistically competent. The three levels of mental health programming are promotion, prevention, and intervention (SHAPE). This system is something that schools who are lacking in mental health resources can turn to. Schools can register for free and gain access to all of the different programs and developmental resources that are offered. This will help schools build their mental health programs and help to bridge the gap between the students and the faculty.

Empathy!

  • People often underestimate the power of empathy. In our world of constant competition, it is easy to look at the people around you through a lens of animosity. If they get a spot at a college, you don’t get that spot. But we have to take a step back from the competitiveness and realize that we are all going through the same process. We may experience different parts of the process in different ways, but ultimately we face the same system. If you see a struggling classmate, don’t hesitate to reach out! Every act of kindness, no matter how small, may benefit someone in ways that you can’t imagine!

Join In On The Discussion!

Now that you’ve learned more about what’s going on in our schools, I invite you to come and ask me any questions in this group that I’ve created! Simply click on the icon below to get started. Thank you for joining in :).

Works Cited

Shelton, Jessica. “Depression Definition and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria.” PsyCom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986, 18 Mar. 2019, www.psycom.net/depression-definition-dsm-5-diagnostic-criteria/.

Monroe, Jamison. “Adolescent Depression in Schools.” Newport Academy, Newport Academy, 31 July 2018, www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/adolescent-depression-in-schools/.

Anderson, Meg, and Kavitha Cardoza. “Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students.” NPR, NPR, 31 Aug. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/31/464727159/mental-health-in-schools-a-hidden-crisis-affecting-millions-of-students.

Vlock, Deborah. “Is School Making Your Kid Sick(Er)?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Oct. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-expect-when-you-get-the-unexpected/201410/is-school-making-your-kid-sicker

“The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98.

Admin. “Why Today’s Teens Are More Depressed Than Ever.” Center For Discovery, Center For Discovery, 24 Sept. 2018, centerfordiscovery.com/blog/todays-teens-depressed-ever/.

Shapiro, Margaret. “Stressed-out Teens, with School a Main Cause.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Feb. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/stressed-out-teens-with-school-a-main-cause/2014/02/14/d3b8ab56-9425-11e3-84e1-27626c5ef5fb_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e841ef0569fc.

Keating, Daniel P. “Dealing with Stress at School in an Age of Anxiety.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 15 Aug. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stressful-lives/201708/dealing-stress-school-in-age-anxiety.

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COMMENTS: 15
  1. April 25, 2019 by Heather .Hersey

    Hi Aria, thank you for sharing your story! In doing your research, did you come across any ways that schools addressing these issues for students? Do you plan to share this with your school?

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Hi Ms. Hersey,

      One thing that I came upon repeatedly was the need to foster stronger social connections. I think that it may be hard for schools to do so though because some kids may be shyer in nature and it would be kind of difficult for schools to force bonds/friendships. I think that the best thing that schools could do is to make sure that students feel safe and comfortable approaching the staff there about any problems they might be having because a trusted adult that will advocate for you and support you is very important.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Pepe

    wow!! i really like this topic…..

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Thank you!

  3. April 26, 2019 by Juliana.Shank

    Fantastic graphics! My project relates to mental health too, but looks at mental health parity laws: https://goaconference.org/access-to-care-for-patients-with-mental-health-issues/ The law you brought up about the ratio of students to school psychologists was really interesting! This seems like something we should advocate for in our communities.

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Hi Juliana,

      Thanks for the link to your page, I will definitely give it a read :). I totally agree, we need to advocate for our own mental health needs because no one else will do it for us!

  4. April 26, 2019 by Addie Anderson

    I love your infographics, and agree that schools should be taking a look at this issue and asking what can be done.

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Hi Addie,

      Thanks for the support!

  5. April 26, 2019 by Eugenie.Park

    Hi Aria,
    This is a really well done and thoughtful presentation. I thought your statistic of 62.5 percent of students feeling pressured to take a class because of a college requirement to be especially compelling. At my school, we see students, disproportionately Asian-American students, who feel so peer pressured to take honors level classes that there are more people in honors than in the regular level. Do you see a similar thing in your school? How do you think this links to lower mental health?

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Hi Eugenie,

      I think that while Asian-American students are historically the ones who are pressured into taking harder courses, it’s a little bit different at my school because everyone there wants to do well. I think that the pressure to take a course that you might not enjoy AND that is harder than you might be able to handle can definitely be linked to a decline in mental health. I remember taking an honors math class that I was not ready for because I didn’t want to drop the honors track, and it ended up being the worst I’ve ever performed academically. I dreaded going to that class and it made my day absolutely miserable until I could get that class over with.

  6. April 27, 2019 by Rachel.Dulski

    Aria, that you for sharing this relevant and important presentation. I go to a school in the Bay Area and I definitely see the effects school has on the mental health on all of the students. What type of environment does your school have? What do you think the school system can improve to help benefit the mental health of students?

    • April 28, 2019 by Aria.Chang

      Hi Rachel,

      My school’s environment is a “stress-fest”. Because it’s a college prep school, it’s clear that everyone who attends has their sights set on college. Everything at the school is structured to make us prime candidates for colleges, and so the coursework is rigorous and grades are high-stakes. I honestly don’t know what the school could be doing better other than offering more mental health resources for students to access, because the nature of the school is stressful.

  7. May 05, 2019 by Takuma.Warren

    This was a really well thought out presentation. I agree with your statement that empathy is an underutilized and underemphasized tool that can do a lot more than people think. Good job with this Article !!!

  8. May 05, 2019 by Hana.Himura

    Hi Aria,
    I really liked your infographic with lots of interesting statistics. I also go to a school where most students take rigorous classes throughout high school to get into a good college, so thank you for sharing this very relevant information.

  9. May 19, 2019 by Ami.Adachi

    Hi Aria! I really liked how you maintained a positive tone, but also emphasized the issue and empathized with those suffering from it at the same time in your introduction video. I really liked your infographics, as they were very organized and asked questions that applied to many millennials. The fact that the results of your survey were based off of the responses from the students at your school, I thought, was a very good representation of the thoughts of many students who go to competitive schools. The reason why I thought the responses were so important is because I believe many students are not able to openly acknowledge the amount of stress they receive and reach out for help, which is why I think you did a really great job in emphasizing the importance of empathizing with others and supporting those around you. Great project!

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