She slowly walked down the hallway, holding back tears as she checked her grades on her phone. She had failed all of the five tests that she had taken this week. Her GPA was well below a 2.0 now, and she still has to worry about participating in clubs and other after school activities to add to her college application. On top of all these stress factors in her life, she still felt the need to manage her social life and her image on social media. No wonder that she has gray hairs and wore heavy layers of makeup to hide the bags under her beautiful eyes.
Teens across the country are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. From 2005 to 2015, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health used data taken from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to observe patterns in the rising depression rates in Americans. They found that in those ten years, depression rates for people ages 12 to 17 rose by 5 percent.
“So some of the main factors that really trigger the depression are family and school. School is one of the biggest ones, I have to say, with all the stress that school puts on students, because I have like two more years until I go off to college,” said sophomore Lyla Farooqi. “I have to really focus on my grades and bringing them up. Beyond grades, I have extracurriculars, SAT prep and all that, and having the stress put on is overwhelming because you have to be able to balance out everything else in your life.”
Factors such as social media, friends, family, and school are all possible explanations for the rising depression rates. Among these reasons, the pressure to do well in school was one of the most commonly listed by students on mental health-oriented websites. The rising pressure to get into college makes students feel as though the only way to achieve success is through college. This means pressure to get good grades, be active in clubs, and partake in sports—even if it means pushing aside sleep in order to enhance a college application.
Guidance counselor Mr. Philip Cohen believes that “it’s not that difficult to find a college to go to. However, the colleges that you may have thought were once guarantees to get into are a little harder.” He finished his statement by saying that the University of Maryland “when I was growing up… was an easier college to get into than it is now.”
College wasn’t nearly as important as it is today in the past, especially when it comes to securing a steady career. In past generations, it was possible to be successful without a degree, whereas today, it’s more likely you’ll land a well-paying job with a college degree. “I think the stress of society in general is increasing tremendously for individuals, teenagers, and in their twenties, whether it’s college, whether it’s careers, job expectations, et cetera,” said school psychologist Michael O’Shaughnessy. “ I think nowadays you can’t get any job without college.”
Eleventh grader and varsity volleyball player Alexandra Moangue agreed with him. “School is probably the main reason I would have mental health issues. When you have to do good in school and you have to do clubs and you have to play sports and you have to handle whatever’s going on at home on top of that, it can be really hard.”
Sophomore Emaan Nadeem had similar thoughts, and went on to talk about pressure from peers and teachers by stating: “Your friends are always talking about their grades and your teachers make unnecessary comments about your bad grades, and family too.”
Some attribute the rising depression rates among teens to social media. Having access to the profile pages of models, actors, and other celebrities has made teens now compare their own lives to those portrayed in perfect pictures. Furthermore, people post how interesting and exotic their lives are, creating an illusion narrative. When you have everyone’s seemingly perfect lives at your fingertips, it’s hard not to compare and become sad.
“Social media stresses me out because I constantly compare myself to people from school who I think are prettier and have better bodies than I do,” Jessica Nguyen, a sophomore said. “Social media only shows the positive sides of someone’s life and what they choose to share with the world which can only be a facade,” she continued.
Sophomore Christian Nieto agreed. “I see some people with their fine-looking photos, and they have some bomb captions too… I can’t amount to that.” He finishing his statement with: “Especially if I’m looking at some random person online. I’ll be like oh, I wish I was like that, I wish I looked like that, I wish I could look like that.”
Of course, there are ways to relieve school-based stress. It’s important for students to balance their schedule, extracurriculars, and hobbies as a whole when planning what classes to take. AP Government and American History teacher Mr. Donald Mitchell thought that students need to consider their “total life” before choosing to take all AP classes. “And I think that’s part of the process we all learn,” Mr. Mitchell said. “You’ve got to figure out where your limitations are, and there’s that pressure to do more.”
If you ever feel seriously hopeless or sad, it’s extremely important to talk to a professional, whether it’s in the form of seeking help from a therapist or going to your counselor during school. (Mr. O’Shaughnessy is in his office at Student Services every day of the week except Wednesdays). When it comes to feeling overwhelmed by pressure, there are natural ways to deal with stress, such as exercising, drawing or writing about your feelings, and talking to a friend. Mr. Mitchell preaches, “You have to be who you are, and be okay with that.”