This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please.
As a junior at a private collegiate prep school, I looked around and noticed that so many of my peers suffered from some variation of an anxiety disorder. Rather than take their anxiety disorders seriously and find ways to eliminate or learn to manage their various stressors, a lot of the people I know, Including myself view/viewed their anxiety disorders as “badges of honor” or rites of passage into being a “real” student. This mentality stretches even further to after we graduate as I worry that even though we’re only 17 we will grow up to be adults who will always have something going on and won’t be able to relax and practice healthy self-care. Since studying Abnormal Psychology I’ve realized some of the serious effects long term stress can have on a body physically and mentally which is why I’ve decided to interview some students from different backgrounds on their perspectives on anxiety disorders in privates schools and how they differ from public school.
I first identified this challenge in out school’s newspaper. I was a copy editor for a year and we were constantly pumping out interviews, editorials, and articles on stress in out school. The articles were great, but lost a touch of reality as a lot them quoted students agreeing that stress was simply “bad.” I’ve placed a link here will other articles about stress on my school’s website here: https://www.blakespectrum.org/?s=stress&submit=Search . My school doesn’t publish information on students mental health for privacy reasons, but I think one thing that was really telling was that I had no trouble at all finding people around my school who had some sort of anxiety disorder. I think the general feeling is that we all just say the right things about stress and then go on about our days, but the students I interviewed also agreed that there was an underlying culture in which stress wasn’t “that bad.” In fact, it was great, and a sign that you were doing good work, that your GPA was high. and that you were a true “Blake kid.” The picture below in an organizer I created after conducting some empathy interviews and is also how I came up with my POV statement: Privileged and affluent teens/high school students need to stop seeing anxiety and depression disorders as badges of honor or indicators of hard work because it creates an elitist learning environment and romanticises mental illness. Why is this romanticism taking place, and how can we change the culture and eventually students’ actions? This is really relevant to all of us because from what I can tell, a lot of the schools involved in GOA are private or collegiate prep schools. I wonder if what I’ve noticed is the same around the nation and in other schools, and hope my catalyst project encourages some of you guys to take note of mental illness romanticism, not only in your school but in life in general. This is worth seeking a solution because as I mentioned earlier, these stress-promoting habits and mindsets we develop now carry on into adulthood, and stress is clinically proven to shorten life and promote/cause a number of health issues in humans. Below is a report from CBS on how stress from debt can cause health problems. Even thought debt isn’t a common stressor for teens, it can be a substitute stressor for school when get older and a way to look at how stress in general can affect the body.
Students from private schools share their opinions on the romanticism. (Names have been removed for privacy)
Do you or anyone you know suffer from an anxiety disorder?
P1: I don’t personally have a disorder but I know a lot of people who do. I do have a lot of anxiety about school etc.
P3: Yes, I have generalized anxiety disorder. Both of my parents have it too, I also have a lot of friends who suffer who from anxiety.
P4: I don’t, but a lot of my friends do.
How did you realize you had an anxiety disorder? When did you realize you needed help?
P1: I don’t have an anxiety disorder, but I knew I was more than just nervous or worried about things when the nervousness started, I guess, taking over my life.
P3: I can’t really describe it. Both of my parents suffer from anxiety and knew it was genetic, so from young they taught me about the signs. They always joke that I was a nervous kid, and as I got older and life, in general, got busier and harder I found it harder to feel calm. It was like every and anything made me extremely anxious. I would worry about things that didn’t really warrant strong emotions.
Who did you go to for help? What was their reaction?
P1: Right now I ask my friends for advice. My parents don’t really understand anxiety, they think that school isn’t that difficult and that I should learn to just deal with it. My friends are really supportive though.
P3: I went to my parents and friends, then a therapist. They were all really supportive, I’m very lucky to have a strong support system.
What types of things do you hear students around you school saying about anxiety?
P1: People use terms like “I’m really anxious about this thing” or “I’m Freaking out I have so much work to do.” People don’t really realize that anxiety is serious, people use the word really nonchalantly.
P2: I think people, in general, think it’s not that big a deal like it’s something that will go away with time like high school is the reason why some people have it. I don’t know much, but I do know that there are like triggers, I’m assuming that people can have more than just one and that mental illness can be for your whole life.
P3: So many people think it;s almost “cool” like having ridiculous amounts of stress and anxiety are a good thing, and even better if you can get through everything without help. It’s really unhealthy because so many people don’t get help because they have that mindset.
P4: I mean there’s a lot of information about mental illness around my school, but a lot of people ignore it. I think as much as we want to pretend that we’re doing a good job educating people, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding it. A lot of people think that everyone is just complaining and if they can get through it so can the other person. I think that too at times, to be honest, I really don’t get how people can get so anxious about school when they have easier schedules with me, but I guess it just depends on the person.
Would you say that there is a culture of romanticism of mental illness, especially of anxiety at your school? What about specifically with private schools?
P1: Maybe not of mental illness in general, but I think anxiety just in the sense that a lot of people think it’s a good thing. That being really stressed and anxious is a sign of hard work. Sometimes it seems like people strive to be at the breaking point all the time or they feel like they aren’t doing enough work, which is a problem all on its own. I think in college prep schools, there’s this idea that everything is about getting into college and that the only way to do that is by working yourself to death all the time.
P2: A lot of people think it’s not a big deal, and like almost want an anxiety problem, it’s so common to hear around the halls. People think that it’s a sign that you’re a good student or whatever. It’s really sad because I think a lot of people don’t get help because they think it’s good to be anxious.
P3: I think that people like to be busy like they feel like it shows they’re a hard worker. At private schools, there’s a lot of competition between students and it’s easy to lose yourself in your work. Since we have so many resources there’s also a lot of pressure from parents and teachers to do well because they assume that with everything available to us, how could we be average?
P4: I don’t know if it’s romanticism of just apathy. Like, a lot of people just don’t care really. There’s no denying that people are anxious and have stress, it’s just that people don’t care. It’s just part of life at a private school I think, where we maybe don’t have stressors from our home life, or job etc, we have a lot of pressure from people around us to be excellent.
Why do you think this culture exists?
P1: Pressure from parents, they make it seem like anxiety isn’t real and that we’ll all just get over it, or that it’s specific to people in our generation, that resonated with kids I think, and makes them not take their anxiety seriously
P2: I honestly don’t know, we all know it’s not healthy, yet keep perpetuating it. I guess no one wants to be “that kid” who can’t handle anything
P3: I think some people get like a kick out of being really stressed and anxious and then getting through it, it’s like an adrenaline rush, or it proves that you can handle things.
P4: I think a lot of people would consider all of their schooling a failure if their parents spent all this money on an expensive school just for us to not be exceptional and then complain that we’re mental ill the whole time, our parents live pretty stressful lives and don’t understand why we are complaining so much, so we cope the best way we can.
How do you think we can change this culture in private schools?
P1: I think we have to change mindsets at home and school.
P2: Stop the stigma, and show people that there’s no shame in having an anxiety disorder.
P3: Honestly, I don’t think we will, private schools produce the perfect high-powered people who love to be busy and work really hard. It’s not very healthy, but I guess there’s something to appreciate about it, I just worry about those people in the future.
P4: Talk to students and let them know it’s ok to not be ok all of the time, and you can take days or nights off sometimes without failing completely.
Acknowledging that not everyone has access to the same mental health resources, here are some simple ways to naturally reduce stress and anxiety.
- Take a deep breath.
- Accept that you’re anxious
- Use a calming visualization.
- Use positive self-talk.
- Focus on right now.
- Try regularly engaging in relaxing activities like yoga or pilates.
- Find your breaking point and pay attention to how often you reach it and which activities you’re doing when you reach that point.
- Learn how to practice self-care!
- Occasionally taking a mental health day
- Carving out time in your day to meditate and reflect on the day
- Doing one thing each day that relaxes you, whether that be watching one episode of your favorite Netflix show or a long bath before you go to bed each day.
- Find people in your life that you can rely on as a support system
- If your anxiety and stress cannot be managed by these above tips, consider seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist for advice/help, as you may need to diagnosed with a disorder and treat it with different types if therapy or medication.
- Finally, Enact change in your own community!
- Romanticism and apathy towards anxiety disorders are serious and starts with societal standards, some of which we’ve set ourselves. Try speaking to parents, teachers, and other students, respectfully challenging the ways they view anxiety disorders.
Thank you to the four students who participated in the interviews.
“Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now.” Psych Central. July 17, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2017. https://psychcentral.com/lib/ways-to-reduce-anxiety-right-here-right-now/.