Student Stress: “Take it Seriously”

Monday May. 3rd, 2010

Ben Westesen

A 1999 survey of high-achieving high school students found that almost a quarter of them had considered killing themselves, and 42 percent knew someone their age who had attempted suicide. Beyond general depression, the second most popular reason for these top students to consider suicide was school pressure. Students, especially seniors, are dealing with a high amount of stressors in their every-day lives. From applying to college, thoughts of moving out of the house, AP tests and finals; there is much on the mind of the graduating scholar.

In an anonymous poll, Bozeman High School seniors rated their stress levels on a scale of 1 to 10 with the average being an 8.23. When asked to rate the pressure they feel to succeed academically from their peers, their parents and the school administration, they replied, 4.8, 7.4, and 5.1, respectively. When describing the academic pressures they felt from their parents, (after removing the extremities on either end of the spectrum) 50% of students reported stress/pressure levels of 9-10.

Academic stress takes a great toll on nearly all students. Sleep habits are disturbed and, as a result of the stress, students find it hard to concentrate and to finish their work.  The source of the pressure, however, is never-ending. Despite the fact that the students are struggling, the stress and pressures continue to grow—pushing the student into a hole that many kids feel they simply can’t crawl out of. On average, every two weeks a Montana youth commits suicide.
Bozeman High School has won many prestigious awards based on AP excellence, average GPA’s, the number of valedictorians—eventually landing the school a spot on Newsweek’s list of the top public high schools in the nation. Statistically, the high school has scored, on average, 12-15% higher on math, reading, writing, and science tests (including the ACT/SAT) than the average for the rest of the nation. To most, this would appear like a grand success, but when the mental health of the students at BHS is examined, it is obvious that the Bozeman populous has forgotten one critical fact of life on this planet—students are not robots.

“Sometimes I feel strung out from being stressed for several days in a row. Sometimes when I’m stressed I just procrastinate and put things off because they stress me out.  When the administration pressures me to do well it makes me want to do the opposite…so I go and blow off steam on the weekends so I can handle the week of school.” This quote came anonymously from a BHS senior earlier this month. The stress at BHS is very real and tends to run deeper than in most schools.

These last few weeks of school are the most stressful of all. Nearly all seniors have been sufficiently smacked in the face with senioritis and are all just trying to make it through. Ending high school is a big step in everyone’s life—what with moving on to college and starting to pick out a career that you want to do for the rest of your life. Young adults are starting to fret over which college they will attend and how they will live in this new world. To say the least, these few weeks are possibly some of the most stressful weeks a person will ever have. What is Bozeman High School doing to lend a hand to these struggling students? Not nearly enough.

Where can a student turn for help? You would think the counseling office would provide this assistance, but when a student in need visits their website, they are bombarded with still more stressors. Anxiety-stimulating headlines flash across the screen.  “STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS, SUMMER JOBS IN INTERESTING PLACES, VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES, and ‘QUIRKY’ CAREER RESOURCES” provide great ways out for a stressed student. The Guidance and Counseling motto is high pressure as well, “The mission of the BHS Guidance and Counseling Department is to encourage students to develop their potential, to nurture their academic, career, and personal dreams, and to assist them in their preparation for life as adults.” Not often enough does the school reach out a helping hand on the emotional side of things. Instead it pushes students to shove themselves deeper into a book and to continue to strive for whatever the school says a student should seek in their life. The sole individual who would openly provide help was Sherri Blackwood, the school’s Crisis Counselor, but in response to this redeeming quality of the BHS administration, the school board has decided to cut her position for next year. Mrs. Blackwood sends, on average, one student every week to the ER for psychiatric assistance and she sees 15-20 students every day to help them work through their troubles.

On the lighter side of things; we are almost in the clear. Summer is near and with it comes freedom and sunshine. As far as managing your stress in the next month and a half, there are five steps that will help you through. Take Deep Breaths, Exercise!, Eat Properly, Rejuvenate Yourself, and Get Enough Sleep. If you know someone who is struggling through these tough times, take it seriously. Talk to them and let them know you are there. And if the pressure starts getting to you, reach out to a friend or a teacher who you trust. Things will get better.