Mental Health vs. Modern Education: How Today’s Educational System Hurts Students

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brain-303186_640By Ashley Duong

As high as 70 percent of adolescents with mental illnesses remain untreated as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics. The constant pressure to fight for success has a rather dire consequence on the mental health of students, and yet little is being done to combat it.

A study done at Fremont High School in the spring of 2015 by Stuart Slain, a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, found that 54% of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80% suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety. Whether it’s because of the fear of stigma or the lack of access to resources, students aren’t getting the help that they need to stay healthy.

With a curriculum that focused on AP classes, the pressure on students at my high school to load up on too many challenging classes was always present. In addition to grade inflation and cut-throat competition among students, the generalized idea was that our grades represented our worth as human beings. The collegeswe go to finitely determine our success in the future. It’s a very isolating experience not knowing who your real friends are and who’s using you to get a better grade. This internalized concept of competition and success was what kept most students stressed and depressed.

With college graduation rates going up and job opportunities diminishing, students are pushed harder than ever to compete for coveted spots at prestigious universities.

It’s not impressive anymore to have simply graduated with a degree or gone to college, especially with an increase of close to 50 percent (20 million) of people 25 and older obtaining college degrees, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also found that it has become increasingly more significant to have advanced degrees in order to obtain management positions, instead of solely obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree.


Students are aware of the fact that they must do whatever it takes to really set themselves apart from the herd, especially with the pressure of applying for graduate school looming overhead.

The running catch phrase at my high school was, “Sleep is for the weak.” Walking through the halls, you would hear conversations between students trying to one-up each other about how little they slept the night before.

This contest over lack of sleep was a prime example of the over-competitive mentality drilled into students who forego their own health in response to the expectations and standards of our education system. I can personally attest to the negative effects of this system.

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34 as reported by the CDC in 2015. Likewise, a study done on high school students by Child Health USA in 2009 show that 17 percent have considered committing suicide, with numbers quickly rising.

I admit that I am a part of that 17 percent, and I know I am not alone in this struggle. The stress and self-esteem issues that I have faced as a result of my education have, at one point, driven me to consider taking my own life.

My high school was one of the many that lacked the resources to properly support students with mental health issues. In addition, the overall mentality of my school encouraged suffering with the promise of long-term gain. I began to hate and dread school in a way that I had never done before.

Schools often lack the funds to provide necessary screenings for at risk students. The Huffington Post reported that from 21,000 screenings done in high schools in Washington in 2010, the numbers have dropped significantly to 7,500 in 2012 due to lack of funding.

As mental health begins to take the spotlight in the media and news, more attention is being paid to the services provided to students that need it. Awareness programs started up by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reinforce the necessity of promoting  awareness for mental illness and ways to help students combat it as well as recognizing the signs of its presence.

In addition, other resources have now become available to college students across the nation, including ULifeline, an online site geared towards informing students about mental illnesses as well as providing tips to help those in crisis. Other organizations that focus on advancing the health of college students include American College Health Association (ACHA) which has started a helpline to aid students who are at risk of being a danger to themselves.

After coming to UCI and having some time and space away from my high school, I now understand the unhealthiness of the stress that I was putting on myself.

The resources available to me at UCI paired with an environment fostered by professors and other students alike that encourages growth and learning rather than focusing simply on grades has changed the way I see and approach my education. Now, instead of taking classes out of peer pressure, I take them based on my interests. I am now focused on being an intrinsically motivated student. Likewise, access to counseling and academic advisors has helped ease the pressure and illusion that I must face my college career alone and without help.

Things may be beginning to take a turn for the better, but students are all still under immense stress to be the best. While preventative measures are helpful and impactful, perhaps an even more dramatic change in our education system as a whole is needed to really snub the problem at its source.
Ashley Duong is a first year literary journalism major. She can be reached at alduong1@uci.edu.

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