How school stress harms teens’ mental health

How school stress harms teens’ mental health

Courtesy of the author.

This series was published in partnership with Local Circles, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that offers employment opportunities in youth-led research to increase college and work readiness for Detroit teens. Find out more about Local Circles.

In this essay, Detroit teen Loria Browner, a Local Circles participant, shares how school has affected her and her peers’ mental health.

I remember the days when I’ve had a breakdown from the stress of school, just sitting with my head on my arms, annoyed and worrying about my grades. I’ve seen and heard students talking about how school was stressing them out, how school has been worse for their mental health since 2020. 

I remember seeing students with tears in their eyes worrying about how they were going to improve their grades, worrying about how they’re going to push through the blockages of stress that are coming at them left and right. I’ve seen kids leaving class because they wanted to give up — the pressure becoming too much for them to handle. In our minds, it was all the same. “How were we going to get through this?”

As I observed some students during my free time, I felt a huge change from us all, with the atmosphere around us becoming sad, tense and annoyed – both the students and teachers. It was as if that wave of stress had hit all of us at the same time. We worked every day non-stop as if we were just put inside of a robot in a repeating cycle. 

In the meantime, I have worked with a local research group called Local Circles, where we discussed how mental health affects teens and some solutions to help teens with stress. In our research, we interviewed and surveyed other teens to learn more about how stress from the pandemic was affecting them. Our research data showed us that since the pandemic has happened, teens have felt more unstable, more stressed out and like teachers don’t really care about how they’re doing.

I could relate: since the pandemic began, stress has changed my body. I haven’t been able to sleep, my muscles are always aching and classes have only made things worse. In one class recently, my teacher was disappointed in me for not finishing my work. I tried telling her about how much work was piled up on me, with assignments from four other classes. She said I should have done her class’s work first if I was so stressed out.

The stress makes you long for the last day of school, while the overwhelming homework piles up every day as if a pile of words is just coming nonstop. In our research with Local Circles, lots of students who were interviewed said they believed that teachers are overworking them and giving them too much homework to handle.

Trying to do schoolwork like normal feels like pretending. The stress is gnawing at you like you’re stuck in a trap waiting to be eaten. “Why can’t you realize how this is affecting us?” “Why won’t you listen to what I’m saying?” The teachers expect much more from us as if the world hasn’t changed. We are just kids, kids who shouldn’t have to deal with the stress that has been building up in us for years.