Opinion
Student Well-Being Opinion

Why Do We Value Achievement Over Mental Health? A High School Senior Speaks Out

By Gabrielle Weber — August 16, 2018 3 min read
Dream lanterns tree 933219676
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’ve struggled with my mental health as long as I can remember. It started with forcing myself to sleep on the ground as a little girl because I didn’t feel like I deserved my bed. Eventually, it escalated to having to call my dad from the counselor’s office my junior year of high school to tell him that I had hurt myself at school. As someone who struggles to feel worthy enough to ask for help, I’ve felt alone most of my life. Ironically, in that struggle, I could not be further from alone.

I came to that realization after I opened up to my mom. I broke down after a family gathering and admitted to her how much I struggled to form personal connections I felt safe in. She replied with something unexpected that shattered my heart: “It’s OK. We all feel that way.” After talking openly about that day with friends, I quickly realized that feeling alone wasn’t the exception. It was the rule.

I often joked that by getting three hours of sleep and chugging a five-hour energy drink, I could say I got my eight hours.

High schoolers, how many times have you heard something like, “I stayed up until midnight pulling an ‘all-nighter’”? I was one of those people. At one point in my life, I often joked that by getting three hours of sleep and chugging a five-hour energy drink, I could say I got my eight hours. Such incredibly unhealthy behavior is a normalized part of student culture. Achievement is blatantly valued above health. This prioritization instills in students the feeling that we’re not good enough, making it difficult to reach out. In short, it sabotages learning. You know, the thing we go to school for?

Without our health, whether that be emotional, mental, or physical, students will not be able to learn. Maybe they can manage temporary memorization, but a teenager running on nothing more than the hyper state that anxiety causes and a few hours of sleep won’t absorb the things he or she needs to learn. That is a scientifically proven fact. When a student’s stress response is activated, that student’s brain cannot absorb long-term learning because its focus is on escaping danger.

However, a good student is expected to “suck it up.” No one advocates for the students struggling to live up to unreasonable standards because that struggle is viewed as ideal. It’s seen as virtuous, when in reality, it’s extremely detrimental.

In order to solve this problem, schools must prioritize well-being as the fundamental foundation of learning. It should never be a question for kids whether they’ll have someone to turn to when they need it. Expanding supportive staff in schools—including psychologists, counselors, and social workers—would provide the kind of support students both need and deserve. Students with disabilities, disorders, problems at home, and many other disadvantages are particularly affected by the current lack of support in schools. We can do better for them and for our community as a whole. We need to do better.

See Also

BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion The Troubling Student-to-Counselor Ratio That Doesn't Add Up
Alanna Fuschillo, August 14, 2018
5 min read

The amount of built-in support at schools for students is extremely limited. The most important source of support built into schools is counselors, who on average must manage 482 kids. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 20 percent of students are estimated to have a mental illness, meaning there are 96 students with a mental illness per school counselor. With 15 percent of students estimated to have a developmental disability, that’s about 72 students per school counselor. Additionally, if nearly 47 percent of students have experienced an adverse childhood experience such as abuse, neglect, the death of a parent, or community violence (as the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health found), that’s about 226 vulnerable kids each school counselor is expected to be able to keep afloat.

There’s no way to ensure that many struggling students get through the school year, let alone develop the kind of trusting relationship that is needed to get students to open up about how they truly feel and what they really need. You can’t look into someone’s brain and see the internal struggles they go through every day. That invisibility tends to make people ignore mental and emotional health, but it is the exact reason why we need to pay closer attention to it.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2018 edition of Education Week as Ignoring Mental Health Sabotages Learning

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Yourself Happier
A happiness and time researcher shares a simple hack to make experiences more pleasurable.
Cassie Holmes
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Schools Are Not Identifying All Their Homeless Students. Why That Is Hurting the Kids
Hundreds of thousands of homeless students are not receiving the services they need, new report says.
3 min read
A young Black girl with her head down on a stack of books at her desk in a classroom
E+/Getty
Student Well-Being Students Have Ideas to Address Mental Health Challenges. They Want to Be Heard
Students have solutions that can help teachers and school leaders support youth dealing with stress, anxiety, and other issues.
8 min read
Group of diverse people (aerial view) in a circle holding hands. Cooperation and teamwork. Community of friends, students, or volunteers committed to social issues for peace and the environment.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being After a Rash of Student Suicides, This School District Stepped Up
Hopeless at first over a student mental health crisis, Colorado's Cherry Creek school leaders decided to build a day-treatment program.
13 min read
Image of a bridge made of puzzle pieces with the middle piece moving to connect the two sides.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty