Illustration by Fintan O’Sullivan
Everyday in the United States, more than one hundred people take their own life. Figures reported by the Center for Disease Control and American Foundation of Suicide Prevention continue to report rising figures in almost every age bracket. Statistics have reached thirty year highs, and raising mental illness is a problem as mental illness can wreak havoc on families and communities.
High school students are not exempt from rising suicide rates. As competition between high schoolers increases, so does stress, as everyone fights to have the best GPA, SAT scores, and extracurriculars. While some Berkeley High School students may read this and think that their high school experience has been smooth-sailing, the reality for many is cutthroat.
A study published by Frontiers in Journalism, revealed that almost half of high school students feel significant stress daily. At nearby Gunn High School in Palo Alto, there have been clusters of suicides by students who have felt that the academic pressure is too much to handle.
These students feel they are only valued for their SAT score as opposed to their cumulative identity. Parents need to put more value on their kids being good friends, kind humans, and hard workers. Imagine working so hard in a class, getting a B, and then being told it’s not good enough. The problem at Gunn and many other high schools is that expectations are so incredibly high that it becomes easy for students to feel they are worthless.
Much of this pressure also stems from the college process. “Elite” colleges are continually reaching record low acceptance rates. This is due to an increase in applicants, but not an increase in “elite” schools.
The way that we rank colleges in almost every category from cafeteria food to overall education means that students sometimes feel the pressure to go to the best school, not the one that will fit them best.
One thing we can begin to do to address this issue is take a more proactive role in educating young people about mental health. We learn so much about calculus and chemistry, but why not have a class period dedicated to learning how to cope with hardship, trauma, and stress in our lives? Students carry with them experiences in their lives that affect them psychologically or emotionally, but they are never taught what to do when stress begins to creep into their lives.
Changing the way that parents treat their kid’s academics and high school curriculums seems difficult, but in the short term, the best thing that we can do is look out for each other. We can make sure to have each other’s backs and not let something go unnoticed. If you see someone who seems stressed, isolated, or depressed, ask them how they are doing or if they want to talk. Because even if they say no, just knowing that someone is interested in their well being can be the first barrier in preventing them from ending their life.