How mental illness takes its toll on students
By Jenna Mihalchan
Special to The Wallflower
They’re sitting in class with 20 minutes left in the school day and Nick can’t focus. They hear the teacher speaking but can’t seem to understand a word. They’re too busy worrying. Worrying about taking the bus home, worrying about homework and worrying about all the materials they’ve missed in the past 20 minutes, all because they were too busy worrying.
Nick is a grade 10 student at Canterbury High School, and much like 10-20% of Canadian teens, suffers from a mental illness which heavily affects their everyday life in some way. Mental health, though once an unmentioned topic, has been talked about a lot more over the last few years. Partially thanks to a developing society, another reason could be the result of the jaw-dropping amount of teens suffering from mental illnesses. Holly, who also attends Canterbury, agrees, saying, “For our grade, people are just so open about their problems, that people might forget there are those with stable mental health. People are just used to it and it doesn’t really faze them.” With such a prominent impact on teens, it begs the question: what are high schools doing to deal with this growing issue.
Every high school in Ottawa has guidance counsellors. A wonderful resource for students, they are not just for course counselling but many students feel comfortable discussing personal matters with them as well. Recently, the Ontario Schools Counselling Association has been urging Guidance Counsellors across the province to receive more training to aid students with mental health concerns. Nick, who talks with their guidance counsellor whenever they’re having a rough day says, “When I do go in and ask for help she’s very helpful and nice.”
On the other hand, there are those who seek outside help. Tessa, a senior attending Sir Robert Borden High School who has Generalized Anxiety disorder talks with her psychiatrist once a month. “I’ve spoken to a guidance counsellor twice and they weren’t about my mental health,” says Holly, who sees a therapist as well.
However, counselling is not the only way these teenagers have found to cope with their mental illness. Nick turns to writing and music, calling it a “big escape.” Tessa uses entertainment, indulging in Twitch where she watches her favourite streamers; also using the Sims 4 and Stardew Valley, games she uses to disappear into another world. Holly describes her moods as waves, a constant up and down and found the app WhatsUp? helpful because she could write exactly what she was feeling in the moment and select specific emotions of the day as a sort of reflection.
“ I would get anxious near the end of the day. I couldn’t focus on anything because I was so stressed out.”
After discussing what the high schools are doing to help these students and the way they deal with their mental illness on their own; it’s worth noting how teenagers’ school performance and grades are affected by their mental health. Nick and Tessa have both admitted to struggling in school because of their mental illnesses. Nick went on to say, “I would get anxious near the end of the day. I couldn’t focus on anything because I was so stressed out.”
For Tessa, her problems stemmed from her workload and confided that it takes longer to do homework for her than for others. Stating, “I’m definitely more of a perfectionist when it comes to marks.”
Nick seems to have a similar view, going as far as to say, “It’s like I have to get a good grade or I’m worthless as a human being.”
It’s safe to say that the pressure of good grades is taking its toll on these two students. Holly, on the other hand, is the opposite. She says her mental health has no outward impact on her grades or school performance, but she did confess, “I think part of my bad mental health stemmed from social relationships, like how it wasn’t going very well.”
The social aspect of secondary school is another area of high school that can provoke worries and anxious thoughts, especially for students like Tessa, who has social anxiety.
The last question the students were asked was about the stigma surrounding mental health. Each student affirmed that there is, in some way a distorted belief about mental illness. “There’s people who stereotype all types of mental illness. With other mental illnesses that are less cute like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, people are like, ‘oh God that’s scary.’”
A complex interplay of genetic, biological, and environmental factors can cause mental illnesses. With the knowledge of these many different factors, it is important to understand that each case is unique and that everyone deals with their mental health in their own way.
*All names have been changed to respect the privacy of the students.