Adolescents are experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis. According to the newest data from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 in every 3 high school students experienced poor mental health during the recent pandemic. Nearly half of students felt persistently sad or hopeless, while about two-thirds of these teenagers had difficulty completing schoolwork.
This means that in a classroom of about 30 students, it’s estimated that 10 individuals were (and may still be) struggling with their mental health.
While mental health issues escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows that we have been trending in this direction for some time. In 2019, the prevalence of mental illness among youth was also notably high in comparison to years prior. According to experts, the rise in mental illness among youth could be due to a number of factors, including:
- The pervasiveness of social media and its impact on youth
- Heightened academic pressure among teenagers
- Frequent use of substances like drugs and alcohol
- Increased openness about mental health struggles
- Broader issues such as racism, inequality, gun violence, and climate change affecting our society
Unfortunately, however, not all youth get professional help. In fact, most youth in the United States — close to 80 percent — who need mental health services do not get them.
As a parent, you may suspect your teen is struggling with their mental health. You may have noticed your teen is becoming more distant, less motivated, or exhibiting abnormal emotional or behavioral changes. Perhaps you are worried about your teen’s vulnerability, especially during this back-to-school season. You are not alone.
“Does school cause mental illness?” and “How does school affect mental health?” are two very frequent questions asked by hundreds of parents. After all, sending your child off to school – whether that’s middle school, high school, or college – reduces your ability to really monitor them. You are, inherently, less involved with their day-to-day activities and friendships.
While education has obvious benefits on all adolescents and young adults, going to school also comes with some inevitable risks. For example, school introduces opportunities for bullying, peer pressure, self-esteem issues, and of course, academic stress. Going to school also causes many children and teens to recognize learning difficulties. However, does school actually affect mental health? Let’s find out.
Does School Cause Mental Illness?
While there are common risk factors for mental illness that are introduced in school, school itself does not cause mental health problems. Typically, mental health problems during adolescence stem from:
- Biological factors, in which chemical balances in the brain cause a person to be more vulnerable to mental illness
- Genetic factors, influenced by a family history of mental health problems
- Environmental factors, typically in the early stages of life and adolescence
Of course, environmental factors that trigger mental health problems can happen at school, or stem from a school-related experience. For example, common reasons that teenagers struggle with mental illness include:
- Stress related to academic or athletic performance
- Bullying or inability to fit in with social circles
- Low self-esteem and self-worth (i.e. feelings of inadequacy)
- Social expectations and the desire to be or look a certain way
- Verbal, physical, or emotional abuse
- Traumatic experiences, such as an accident or loss of a loved one
- Substance abuse, which may stem from peer pressure
- Constant worry or anxiety about other life stressors
- An unstable home environment or unsafe living conditions
So, How Does School Affect Mental Health?
While school alone does not cause mental illness among youth, it is important for parents to recognize that certain school-related factors could trigger the onset of a mental health problem.
For example, academic stress is a leading cause of mental health struggles in students. More than ever, adolescents and young adults feel pressure to go to college, pursue extracurricular activities, excel in their courses, and pass universal, standardized tests. In other words, some students feel like they need to balance—and excel at—it all. This is felt across a variety of student populations, no matter their upbringing, their socioeconomic status, or their learning abilities.
One recent study, conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, found that students in “high-achieving schools” (who commonly grow up in affluent families) are equally at risk of developing behavioral and mental health problems as those living in foster care or poverty, those with incarcerated parents, and recent immigrants.
When facing academic stress, adolescents and young adults are more likely to develop anxiety or depression. They also experience less well-being and tend to do poorly in school. When given a better academic situation, or academic support, research suggests that students experience improved mental health. So, what leads to academic stress?
Academic stress can be caused by:
- High-stakes testing, especially standardized exams
- Demanding academic coursework
- Excessive homework or projects
- High pressure from parents to succeed academically
- Pressure to get into college or university
- Overbooked schedules and the pressure to balance multiple activities and school
- Fear of failure
- Lack of sleep or poor appetite in trying to meet expectations at school
- Transferring schools or transitioning to a new school
- Classrooms that do not properly fulfill a student’s developmental or learning needs
- Stressful relationships with peers at school
- Conflicts with teachers or peers at school
As a parent, it’s important to recognize that these factors may be affecting your child, teen, or young adult. However, by having open conversations in your home, you will be able to keep in touch and keep tabs on your child’s well-being. Ask questions related to your child’s feelings about school and any issues they may be facing. Ask about their relationships with faculty and peers. Let them know that, as much as you want them to succeed, you also want them to be happy and healthy most of all. Tell them to prioritize their mental and physical health first and foremost. This can help to remove some of the pressure your teen places upon themselves.
You can also teach your son or daughter how to effectively cope with stress. While this will vary depending on their age, and there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach, you can teach stress-reducing tactics such as journaling, exercise, meditation, and art therapies as ways to mitigate some of the stress your child may be facing. You can also encourage them to:
- Take breaks and take time for themselves to de-stress
- Set realistic yet flexible deadlines so they do not feel the need to crunch
- Make a plan or to-do list, when they are unable to focus
- Have open conversations with you, their parent(s), about their concerns
- Develop good relationships with their teachers
- Develop the ability to ask for help when it’s needed – asking for help is okay!
Parents should also be open about the topic of mental health in your home. If your child is facing issues with depression, anxiety, trauma, or stress, these should be talked about. Early intervention and support for teens struggling with mental health issues can be an essential step in setting them up for long-term health and success.
How Does School Positively Impact Mental Health?
While the above focuses on the potential implications of school-related factors on mental health, it is important to make clear that education has clear, positive benefits on a person’s mental well-being. According to research cited by News-Medical.net, higher levels of education are associated with better mental health, due to the availability of choices that educated people have in their lifetimes (such as the ability to choose a career, choose to travel, spend money, and more). Lower education is generally associated with a lack of control and resilience, as well as exposure to more day-to-day stressors. This can negatively impact a person’s mental health and lead to disorders like depression.
Therefore, education can be key to success—physically and mentally.
How Does Mental Illness Affect School Performance?
Mental health problems are known to disrupt a person’s daily life and functioning, especially when left untreated. School performance is no exception. As cited by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, mental illness can affect a student’s energy level, dependability, ability to concentrate, mental aptitude, and their optimism towards success. Research also shows that depression and anxiety are also associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs), and depression often leads students to drop out of school.
For example, in a survey from the American College Health Association, college students reported that their mental health was being negatively stress (30%), anxiety (22%), sleeping problems (20%), and depression (14%). This survey was conducted in 2015, and it is highly likely that these figures have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Mental health problems affect more than just school performance, however. When left untreated, mental illness in youth can also lead to dangerous substance abuse and the development of co-occurring mental health disorders. It can also lead to incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, poor quality of life, self-harm, and suicide. For these reasons and more, addressing mental health as soon as possible is critical to helping your child.
Early Intervention is Important for Mental Illness
Most mental health problems begin during the adolescent and young adult years, with 75 percent of mental illnesses emerging by age 24. Being able to recognize your child’s mental health is extremely important for their well-being, their health, and their future success. As a parent, you should know:
- Mental illness is very common during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. You are not alone in this.
- Mental health disorders are treatable. There are an array of treatments available to your teen or young adult. The right treatment program for your teen is out there. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn more.
- Early intervention strategies are effective. The earlier you address mental health problems, the better chance your teen has at lasting outcomes and good health.
If you are worried about your young one facing a mental health problem, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider for young adults and adolescents struggling. You may contact us at 877-581-1793 to learn more, or explore our programs online.
While school alone does not cause mental illness among youth, it is important for parents to recognize that certain school-related factors could trigger the onset of a mental health problem. For example, academic stress is a leading cause of mental health struggles in students.Is school draining kids mental health? ›
“At least 37% of high schoolers face mental health struggles due to school,” said the Pew Research Center. We are still kids, we shouldn't have to struggle as much as we do.How does education affect mental health? ›
Research shows that education can improve mental health by broadening your intellectual, social and emotional horizons. Attending school can also expand your knowledge, help you meet new people, further your goals, improve your career and even help you build better coping mechanisms.Is school more important than my mental health? ›
Your accomplishments will likely be even sweeter when you are healthy enough to enjoy them. Grades and reaching goals have their place, but your mental health is always more important than anything else.Has mental health gotten worse in schools? ›
Adolescent Mental Health Continues to Worsen
In 2021, more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health. In 2021, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide.
For teens, the most commonly reported sources of stress are school (83%), getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69%), and financial concerns for their family (65%).How many kids have mental health issues because of school? ›
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children and adolescents experience a mental health problem during their school years. Examples include stress, anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression, learning disability, and alcohol and substance abuse.Does school cause stress and anxiety? ›
Back-to-school is an exciting time. But for many kids, it can cause stress and anxiety—even children who are usually easy going may experience butterflies and those with some anxiety may get more nervous and clingier than usual. Parents feel the pain, too. Leaving a crying child at school is hard for everyone.How does school stress affect mental health? ›
But research shows that feeling overwhelming school-related stress actually reduces your motivation to do the work, impacts your overall academic achievement, and increases your odds of dropping out. Stress can also cause health problems such as depression, poor sleep, substance abuse, and anxiety.Can lack of education cause mental illness? ›
One factor that has been linked to mental health is the socioeconomic status of a person; there is a correlation between lower socioeconomic status and higher mental health issues. A key causative factor in the wide berth of socioeconomic status could be access to education, due to its importance across many countries.
Grades and reaching goals have their place, but your mental health is always more important than anything else. Kristen Lee Costa, EdD, LICSW, known as “Dr. Kris” is America's Stress and Burnout Doc and an award-winning professor of Behavioral Sciences and Education.Should I skip school because of mental health? ›
You may consider a Leave of Absence if: Your mental health is disrupting your ability to participate in academic and campus life, even with supports and accommodations. You feel you are in crisis or that your level of distress is becoming intolerable.Do schools care about your mental health? ›
Most public schools offer mental health services to students, although utilization remains unclear. In the 2021-2022 school year, 96% of public schools reported offering at least one type of mental health service to their students.What are the most common mental health issues in schools? ›
- Anxiety Disorder.
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Eating Disorders.
- Mood Disorders.
Almost 9 in 10 students (89%) who face academic challenges say they affect their mental health. In 2021, 28% of students said they often feel isolated from others.Do grades cause depression? ›
Research has shown that academic stress increases the chances of adolescents developing anxiety or depression.Why does school drain your mental health? ›
Research has shown that academic stress increases the chances of adolescents developing anxiety or depression. Students have to stay up late to do school work, and they end up doing worse the next day because of a lack of sleep. They become mentally and physically tired and risk their overall health to meet deadlines.How do you know if school is draining you? ›
Feeling exhausted: Mental and physical exhaustion are key signs of chronic stress. Less enthusiasm about school: Common signs include dreading class, worrying about upcoming tests, and a lack of interest in school. A decline in academic abilities: Stress leaves students feeling drained.What to do when school is draining you? ›
- Make Time for Enjoyable Activities: ...
- Get Plenty of Physical Exercise: ...
- Get Outside: ...
- Make Time for Social Activities: ...
- Develop Good Relationships with Professors: ...
- Set Reasonable Goals: ...
- Avoid Procrastination:
Burnout in school happens when students face ongoing stress or frustration — with no time to relax and recharge. Well-meaning teachers, family, and professionals can accidentally contribute to burnout in children. Knowing the signs of burnout can help you and your child find ways to take more breaks and reduce stress.