It’s no secret that America is in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. Students in schools across the country have been reporting increased rates of depression and anxiety. And Clark is no exception.
While the causes of youth mental illness widely vary, among the most influential factors in creating this nation-wide epidemic are school culture and academic stress. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 70% of U.S. teens consider anxiety and depression to be a “major problem” in their community. This problem is exemplified in Palo Alto, where the Center of Disease Control identified two youth suicide clusters over a six year-period. Many of the victims in these clusters were identified as having been influenced by school cultures of “academic distress” and “high-pressure for academic achievement”.
If these phrases sound eerily familiar, it may be because the same phrases can be used to describe Clark High School. While our school has become a powerhouse for high achievers and National Merit scholars, mental health issues run rampant.
It’s easy to see how the environment at Clark feeds into the problem. Students seemingly are encouraged by their peers to cram as many AP classes into their schedule as possible, and seemingly judge each other based on standardized test scores. But this pressure to be academically successful can oftentimes be counterproductive. As one 12th grader in AMSAT explained, “when your identity as a student is so strictly regimented, individuality is repressed and work feels suffocating.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that Clark’s academic rigor is inherently negative. After all, educational achievement should be a key priority. But it does mean that the academic stress culture at Clark needs to be addressed in a proper manner.
In the pursuit of this manner, we interviewed Mr. Ross, the school psychologist. He explained that in order to solve the problem, the staff needs to help better create an accepting community. In his words, “teachers should understand that kids go through all kinds of trauma. You don’t need to be a professional to listen to what a student is going through.” Mr. Ross later added that both school districts and individual schools should allocate more of their available funds towards mental health services. With the pressures that students face throughout the school year, it is especially important that the staff takes an active role in alleviating tension.
The focus on safety at Clark needs to encompass mental health, as the issue not only endangers students, but also hinders the school’s ambitions to provide an insightful and efficient education.
Ultimately, the prevalence of mental illness at Clark can’t individually be solved by the students, the staff, or even the school psychologist. The solution lies only in a conjoined effort. Students won’t be comfortable in school until they learn to better manage the stress and competition associated with their courseloads. Those who struggle with mental health issues can reach out to teachers. Many are understanding of the workload and can help alleviate the stress. If not, Mr. Ross’s doors are open to all. Regardless, there will always be someone on the Clark campus to help in relief.