Sade, Atheminee and Yana are 17 and have just finished their first year of sixth form. They want to talk to you about the pressures experienced by young people today, in and out of school, and how this impacts mental health.
The definition below may not be the one you were looking for, but it is a clear representation of what pressure means to a student. In reality, pressure is continuously being applied to us and gets distributed on both our academic and social life.
We are not just a grade
Schools, especially higher-ranked ones, fail to convey the message that “failing” or slower-paced progress does not mean “failure”. We are treated like statistics and we suffer from this complete disregard, and our mental health is affected as a result. This leads to a lack of human connection between students and teachers and makes us feel insignificant. No credibility is given to us unless it contributes to some kind of academic success. This elicits a belief that self-worth is defined by intelligence or academic success; this is false.
“They have heart palpitations and panic attacks and migraines, and they are all so tired. Worst of all, I feel like a hypocrite, because I’m not even sure I could achieve the grades that I am asking them to get”. Teacher
The fear of judgement
This pressure affects our academic performance as we focus on how others see us, rather than how we see ourselves. So now when I sit in a classroom awaiting my grade, my first thought is “I hope no one finds out”, “what if they all think I’m stupid?” or “should I make up an excuse so that I don’t get ridiculed by others?”. It gets to a stage where my only source of motivation is the fear of judgement from both my peers and my teachers.
The pressure to succeed
After having studiously sat there adding our grades to their excel spreadsheet, we then feel like we are still tossed aside. As if we end up being a great accomplishment that is left to gather dust on their shelves. Once we leave the education system, our grades remain there, ready to be taken out and used as a trophy, enticing students to join the school. This is a reoccurring mindset that has been influenced on us by our peers and teachers through the “need to succeed”.
Losing the joy of learning
This “life-defining” grade draws students away from the vital part of the educational system – LEARNING. As a child we were all at some point intrigued and felt a need to know more; it would bring us joy to go to school and learn about this fascinating world that we live in. Unfortunately, all that beautiful mystery and interest has been smothered by all the pressures we face as students. However, this lack of interest does not just affect our choices during our lessons but also how we respond to future life changing events, i.e. dropping out of school.
On average, one in 10 UK undergraduates will drop out of university before their second year of study1.
Currently, learning for many students is becoming a chore that can seem daunting and tedious to complete. This negative mindset is hard to avoid, but the truth is we are much more than that.
“My peers break down in lessons as they are scared of what’s going to happen to them in the future if they fail”- 16-year-old GCSE student
Despite what we’re conditioned to believe, we are not defined by our grades. The idea behind this overdramatised misconception is extremely damaging to our mental wellbeing. It’s imperative that we understand it and acknowledge that this as one of the leading causes of stress and development of panic attacks, anxiety, depression for young people in school etc.
The pressure of relationships
We are at that stage of life where everyone surrounding us are starting serious relationships and thinking about their futures. It radiates self-hatred as we sit their questioning:
- “Why can’t I be in that position?”
- “Why aren’t I as lucky as others?”
- “I feel forced to be in a relationship because it may affect my status”
- “If my friends are all in relationships then shouldn’t I be in one too?”
- “Being single means that I don’t seem worthy as I am clearly not desirable to girls”
The pressure and shame around sex
The topic of “SEX” has developed a negative stigma around younger people. Although many adults resist discussing this topic in detail to younger audiences, this increases our intrigue to discuss it, which can develop into negative opinions. I believe that when discussing this topic, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that we are all DIFFERENT.
We shouldn’t have to experience judgement as if the event requires a comment page. In many ways, sex is like ‘breathing’ – another normal part of being human. The key difference is how personal something like sex is to an individual. If we are not judged for how we breathe, why should we get judged on how / when we have sex?
This causes shame and self-hatred, that both pressures individuals to have sex when they are not ready and ridicules them after having it.
- The Kaiser study found that boys in particular face pressure to have sex, often from male friends. One in three boys ages 15-17 admitted they feel pressure to have sex, compared with 23 percent of girls.2
On a final note, make mistakes. Mistakes mean you’re trying, so love yourself and be proud of everything that you do, no pressure.
Thank you for reading, Sade, Atheminee and Yana.
Mental health in schools: Make it Count
More and more schoolchildren are struggling to cope with their mental health. Amidst rising rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm in children and young people, this is why we launched our Make it Count campaign, because mental health is not extracurricular.