What makes students unhappy or anxious, and how is a school able to alleviate such feelings?

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world, especially among teenagers.  While there are different reasons for each person, school seems to play a huge role in a student’s mental health. School is where teenagers spend most of their time and energy, where friendships are made and maintained, and where students are forced to stop and listen.  


Here is a quick introduction to depression and mental health disorders in teens: Mental Health Introduction 

Let’s break it down:

Facts About Teen Depression



There are many reasons for depression and anxiety in students, and while this is not the case for every student, most students want to do well in school.  Feelings of competition and comparison are rampant among schools, with parents and colleges constantly judging students and their differences.  The sheer amount of work that some students are doing make them susceptible to stress and anxiety.  Additionally, isolation and fear that no one understands contributes to one’s mental health. Social media has an arguably large role to play in student’s mental health.  Another factor, possibly one of the most obvious, would be insecurities.  These factors play different roles in each teenager’s life, or some not at all.


When asked about the amount, if any, of competition within my school, many students replied that they felt competitive with each other.



Many students credited some or all of their stress to their parents.  They said that their parents’ constant need for success and for their child to do better only adds to stress.  Students expressed fear of failure and mistakes because of their parents, as well as a constant pressure to get into a good college or university.  Some students said that parents were disruptive at home, making it difficult to focus on their work.  16 out of the 30 students who were asked said that parents contributed to a large amount or all of their stress.  Many others responded that it depended on the parent, but that parent’s typically added to stress and anxiety.  


Students also expressed a fear of not getting into a “good” school.  This fear overlaps with the pressure from parents and the competition with other students.  The fear of not getting into a desired college adds tremendously to a student’s already depressed and nervous mental state.  


Both teachers and students said that the amount of work that students were given was excessive and overwhelming.  Homework alone could take between 2-5 hours depending on the student, and that mixed with sports and social life leaves little time to relax.

Social Media:

In today’s times, social media is nearly a staple in all student’s lives.  Many studies have proven it to be detrimental to the mental health of teenagers.  Some students agree.  They say it leads to body image issues, unrealistic expectations, and inaccurate representations of everyday life.  Students said that the constant comparison negatively impacted their mental health.  However, most students said that social media was also a wonderful way to express yourself and in most cases didn’t directly lead to depression, only amplified it. 


Increase in Depression and Anxiety

Schools Grapple With Student Depression as Data Show Problem ...

What can schools do to help?

The Student Perspective:

Students reported their average happiness level, 1-5, with 1 being depressed and 5 being very happy.  70% of students reported a 3 or below. When asked what a school could do to help reduce depression and anxiety, students responded with a variety of answers, falling into three categorized groups. 

  1. Work and Grades:
    • Students suggested that schools focus less on grades and more on learning and a student’s individual strengths and achievements.  Some suggested less work in general, as it tends to become too much for many students.  Many students mentioned a large sense of competition within the school and wished that there was less comparison of grades.
  2.  More Support
    • Students also mentioned more access to support and knowledge about depression and how to deal with it.  The possibility of an anti-bullying program was also brought up.  Many students wished that there was more open, clear, and honest discussions and groups to discuss mental health.  Advisors and regular checkups to discuss mental health and everyday life of students might be beneficial as well.  Some students wished there was more recognition of differences.  Overall, students want to see more clear and honest discussions and support groups. 
  3. Positive Atmosphere
    • Many students emphasized the possibility of a collective, positive mindset.  A school creating and maintaining as sense of cohesion rather than separation and comparison would also benefit the mental health of students.  Additionally, students wished that schools would create a sense of equality among students.   


The Teacher Perspective:

When asked, teachers and school counselors had many suggestions to help make school less stressful for students.  While these options may not be possible for all schools, they are something that should be considered.

  1. Relationships
    • Some teachers suggested that it would be beneficial for students if more teachers created and maintained close relationships with their students/advisees.  Additionally, the ability to empathize with teenagers today and to be available to talk no judgments and offer different perspectives would be beneficial to students mental health.  Finally, teachers offered that schools should focus on being happy now, instead of focusing solely on the future.
  2. Grades and Schedule
    • Teachers offered the ideas that reconstruction of the schedule to allow students to sleep more and changes to the graduation requirements might help students mentally.  Students focus most of their time and energy on earning good grades, so some teachers suggested that different assessment of grades, possibly focusing more on participation and in-class effort would decrease depression in schools.  It was also proposed that students don’t have access to their grades at any point during the semester, so to lessen the focus on them.  
  3. Resources 
    • Teachers also recommended more counselors, each with different specialties.  In addition, the introduction of health classes focusing on mental health and depression would also be beneficial in the eyes of some faculty.  Finally, at the very least, schools should educate their teachers about mental health and signs, so that they can help their students when needed.


Resources to Achieve Better Overall Mental Health in Schools

Alternative Grading Systems

The Importance of Creating Strong Relationships

Signs of a Depressed Teenager

How to Achieve a Positive School Atmosphere

What will you do?

In the comment section please share your opinion on the mental health of your own school and how you believe it can be improved.  If you are not in school at the moment, please share the differences in today’s factors of depression versus when you were in school.

Works Cited:,ret_img,w_500,h_446/×446.jpg

Share this project
  1. April 23, 2020 by Ms. Grieco

    Such a relevant topic, Caroline! I particularly appreciate that you sought out multiple perspectives on this issue by polling both students and faculty.

  2. April 25, 2020 by James

    I really enjoyed this presentation. There were a lot of great details and I appreciated the teacher’s perspective as well. I have observed many of the same things at my school. Luckily, my school is pretty good about being open and having resources to discuss these topics, but there is still obviously a lot of pressure that exists. I think that personal, very small group conversations are preferable as it can uncomfortable to share such personal things with a large group of people whom you might not know that well.

  3. April 26, 2020 by Lara

    Hey Caroline!
    I really enjoyed your presentation. In my school, there is definitely a lot of competition and stress because of the expectations of doing well. I have definitely experienced a lot of school related stress and college related stress in the last year. The pressure to get good grades and do all of the extra curricular activities has definitely made me feel overwhelmed at times. I said this on a different presentation, but I think that a way that my school could reduce stress is provide students with a couple of mental health days that they can take off when they need a break during the school year.

  4. April 26, 2020 by Kelly

    Hey Caroline,
    I really liked your project. Your voice is clear and you back it up with good research and statistics. Luckily for me I go to a really small school were we have a designated time everyday to get extra help from teachers. This alleviates some of the stress you mentioned, however, I still think this is a really important issue and recognize not many schools offer that same kind of accommodation. Overall really great job!

    • April 28, 2020 by Caroline

      Hi Kelly!
      Thanks! I’m glad that your school isn’t as susceptible to stress and anxiety.

  5. April 27, 2020 by Heather

    Hi Caroline, when I was in school, we did not have the same pressure to go to college. Things are so much different now. How might you continue your advocacy for this work now that the conference has ended?

    • April 28, 2020 by Caroline

      Hi Ms. Hersey!
      I hope to speak with some school counselors or teachers to help inform them about the unhappiness and anxiety in students. I was also considering bringing up this subject to some friends at other schools, so that they could try and help their classmates and peers.

  6. April 28, 2020 by Caroline

    Hi Kelly!
    Thanks! I’m glad that your school isn’t as susceptible to stress and anxiety.

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