Can You Blame School for Declining Mental Health?
Updated: Jan 14
While it is understood and somewhat accepted that adolescents can have a mental decline due to stress, especially from school, its severity cannot be truly accounted for. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six youth in the United States aged 6-17 have experienced a mental disorder, with half beginning at age 14. 314,000 youth aged 12-17 in Texas alone have depression. However, only about half receive any kind of treatment annually. High school students with depression or other mental illnesses are twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers. While the statistics grow every year, the availability of resources is insufficient compared to the demand. Especially with the surge in declining mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has reached a peak in encompassing student’s emotional, psychological, social, and even physical wellbeing.
Mental health impacts every aspect of someone’s life, whether that be personal relationships with others or themselves. Factors often associated with the mental health of youth include social and economic inequalities or prejudice, safety, relationships with peers, and relationships with parents. The prevalence of mental illness increases as you take a closer look at specific populations. Young girls are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder compared to young boys who are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral disorder or die by suicide. Suicides among black students under the age of 13 have increased rapidly, nearly twice as likely as white children. Minority groups including American Indian, Latino, Asian American, and LGBTQ+ youth were likely to report higher rates of loneliness and mental decline. Children and adolescents in socioeconomically disadvantaged homes are two to three times more likely to develop mental illness compared to those with higher status. According to the CDC, mental illness creates a disruption in a student’s education by seeing an increase in health and behavioral risks. Poor mental health affects an individual’s decision-making, health, and overall performance in schools. Currently, adolescents often turn to substance abuse, recklessness, unhealthy eating habits, and violence as a way to cope with mental illness.
Most mental health concerns in students derive heavily from the pressures and expectations to achieve high marks in school, or to gain entry into one. The competitiveness in schools only rises as acceptance rates in universities become slim. Students who self-reported depressive symptoms were often associated with concentration difficulties as well as poor performance, relationships, and self-learning. They were also unlikely to undertake higher education. Academic settings that become overbearingly competitive encourage anything but safe and healthy environments. Schools attempt to encourage collaboration through group work, however, as students begin to fall under the pressure of college preparation and expectations, they develop destructive habits. Students don’t learn productivity. Instead, they learn how to cram projects just hours before a deadline. Students don't learn helpful techniques for studying, they learn how to memorize for their next exam until it’s over and they can dump that information out. Students don’t learn. They simply cannot learn in an environment that doesn’t teach them managing skills and coping mechanisms to handle stress and balance work. Many of the destructive habits developed in adolescence carry on to adulthood, providing an unstable basis for many students in their future endeavors. Along with poor habits, long-term impacts of academic stress and decreased motivation includes a reduced likelihood of sustainable employment.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health of students had already been under fire worldwide. Academic stress and the rapid changes taking place in the world have taken an even larger toll on students’ mental health than ever before, and it is unsurprising to see students become increasingly anxious. Without the aid of school administrators, students will continue to suffer from mental illness and the situation will become all the more dire. So, could you blame school for declining mental health? As long as they continue to remain ignorant and refuse to provide the support students need, then the answer is sadly a resounding yes. By putting off solutions, declining mental health can adversely affect not only the academic achievement of students but the self-esteem of those who seek academic validation.
 CDC. “Mental Health Symptoms in School-Aged Children.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/school-aged-mental-health-in-communities.html. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.
 National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Mental Health in Schools | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.” Nami.org, 2021, www.nami.org/Advocacy/Policy-Priorities/Improving-Health/Mental-Health-in-Schools. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.
 Pascoe, Michaela C., et al. “The Impact of Stress on Students in Secondary School and Higher Education.” International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, vol. 25, no. 1, 11 Apr. 2019, pp. 1–9, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02673843.2019.1596823, 10.1080/02673843.2019.1596823. Accessed 31 Jan. 2022.
 The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory. “Mental Health | SchoolSafety.gov.” Www.schoolsafety.gov, www.schoolsafety.gov/mental-health. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.