In this illustration, there are two people, both wrapped in shawls. One of them seems younger and is sitting on the floor, next to a plant, with a cup in their hand. The other person seems to be older and is sitting on a pouf, with one hand on the younger person, as if to comfort them.
Simply communicating more with kids can help them deal with stress. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada.


An Open Letter on Mental Health From a High School Student

'It’s not a bad thing for your child to seek professional help for their mental health and well-being.'

It’s 1 a.m. and I’m supposed to be fast asleep, but I can’t stop thinking about the project I have to do for my business studies class by the end of the week. I’m also staying back at school for badminton practice every day, and I’ll only get home by 6 p.m. Don’t even get me started on homework.

I’m 16-years-old and in grade 11; and boy, have I surprised myself. I’ve gone further than I had expected, both academically and otherwise, which surely is a good thing; yet, it’s also taken a toll on me. Getting good grades, participating in sports, and taking up projects outside of school have been great fun, and allowed me room to grow, but it has also given me a lot of anxiety.

I’ve had my fair share of battles with anxiety and bullying. I transferred schools halfway through the third grade because I was bullied. I used to detest going to school, but as the years went by, I made more friends and I learned to ignore the rumours. Eventually, the name-calling, dirty looks, and feeling of being left out barely had any effect on me. I had built a thick skin overtime.

After a few years, as I dealt with the stress from school and figured out life outside of the classroom (or lack thereof, rather), and simply being a teenager, I was hit with anxiety. There was immense pressure to look good, sound smart and be popular. In my experience, this can result in eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem. 

An illustration showing three young people. One of them is looking away and is carrying a backpack, facing the other two. The three seem to be in conversation with each other.

There’s immense pressure to fit in and be popular in school which can be anxiety-inducing and stressful. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada.

I would have days where I would look in the mirror and nearly pick myself apart, unable to look past my flaws. I almost spiraled into an eating disorder, where I was always conscious of my weight, and what I ate, but because of the support of my friends and family, I didn’t go down that rabbit hole too far. When I needed it, they reminded me to look past my perceived flaws, to focus on myself and not let someone else’s opinions get to me. I always had people around me who were more than happy to listen and talk to me.

A lot of my anxiety is connected to the fear that I’ll never be good enough.

There are ups and downs here — my anxiety does help me push myself and prevents me from slacking off. The problem begins when I start to push myself a little too much or I’m convinced that my work isn’t up to the mark.

A lot of my anxiety is connected to the fear that I’ll never be good enough. When I have even the simplest assignment due, I’ll get worried thinking that it’s not good enough or I won’t get an A grade, or that I haven’t put enough time and effort into it — even if I have. It’s these recurring thoughts that keep me up at night, and end up stressing me out even more, as I’m now too tired to do what I have to. 

Now, it’s good to be challenged, but it’s not that great when it affects your everyday interactions, sleep, food intake and relationships — and that’s where it can really help if an adult steps in. It can help if a student knows that they have you, an adult in our lives, to provide a calming and reassuring presence and not dismiss our problems. Knowing this may relieve some of the stress that we’re shouldering. 

This is an illustration of a young person sitting at their desk with a cup of coffee in their hand. The book has a pencil, a sheaf of papers, a penstand with stationery in it, a clock, and some books.

Being challenged is good, but there’s an urgent need to strike a balance and not neglect self-care. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada.

Having support from people around them can boost students’ confidence and give us the courage to reach out and get help when needed. The smallest remarks and actions can make or break someone’s day — be it encouraging them on the little things, giving them a high-five, or simply smiling at them. 

I want parents to know that it’s not a bad thing for your child to seek professional help for their mental health and well-being. If your child goes to a psychiatrist or a counselor that doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent or you should be ashamed. You are helping your child take steps to reach their full potential.

Even taking a moment to remind us to be mindful can have an impact. It is also important to reiterate to us that grades aren’t everything, and that a bad grade or an unsuccessful sports tryout isn’t an indication of our ability or intelligence.

Teachers, if you see us struggling, ask us to stay back for a few minutes after class and have a gentle conversation. Parents, it may seem like your child is always on their phone, but what about you? How much time do you spend picking up calls, checking your emails, and stressing over your jobs? 

Also read: What Teachers Need to Know About Childhood Trauma

Even if it may not seem like it, I know that when my parents are visibly worried, it makes me more anxious. While my parents certainly don’t mean to feed into that nervous energy, emotions at the subconscious level have an effect. 

Take two hours off to go to the mall, or better yet, the beach or the park. Leave your phones behind. Sometimes we may be scared to share what’s happening in our academic or personal lives for fear of being reprimanded. You don’t need to pressure your child into talking about everything that’s going on, but even the simplest conversation can help form an unbreakable bond.

A minute, hour, or day off can mean the world to someone who needs it. Any teacher, counselor, or parent has the ability to change the life of a student; even the smallest action can mean a lot to someone who is lonely or overwhelmed. The simplest conversation can help any child feel more comfortable with who they are or what they’re feeling, and even knowing that it’s OK to feel sad, angry, or frightened, can make a huge difference. 

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An Open Letter on Mental Health From a High School Student