State of Mind: Students are reporting higher stress levels in schools

A Pew Research survey reveals that 96 percent of teenagers said depression and anxiety was a problem among their peers. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

Stress has increased significantly among students over the past few years, with studies showing students as young as third grade reporting stress.

Experts said some stress and anxiety is to be expected, but the levels seen today are alarming.

Brian Johnson, a child and family therapist in Kalamazoo, said over the past several years he has seen a change in mental health among students.

“Now, I’m seeing a lot of anxiety, panic attacks, anxiety, so that’s a big change,” Johnson said.

A Pew Research survey shows anxiety and depression topping the list of problems teens see among their peers. Of those surveyed, 96 percent said it is a problem, including 70 percent who said it is a major problem.

Johnson attributes the mental health concerns to increased stress among children and adolescents. He said the stressors are different for different age groups.

“It might be leaving the parents for the first time, could be making friends, could be whether or not I like my teacher,” he said. “Part of it is our society, a lot of demands on kids.”

Those demands include larger-than-ever workloads as older students seek to set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive college admissions process. But as stress is increasing among students, mental health resources in schools are inadequate.

“I had for many years at the high school, for 900 kids, I was the only counselor,” said Cathy Longstreet, the counseling department chairwoman in the Hastings Area School System.

She said things are starting to get better, but mental health resources in schools still lag behind.

Longstreet said it’s important for students understand it’s OK to talk about problems that arise, especially when it comes to mental health, something that often comes down to support from adults.

“When you’re talking about a student that needs someone to talk to, they’re not going to come to my door if they don’t know who I am or they don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone,” she said.

Johnson is often that someone students talk to. He hosts a weekly support group for teens.

He said stressors they mention include bullying in schools and mass shootings, and that students today often feel they’re being pushed into adulthood too fast.

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