Excessive stress in American highschools can lead to depression in teenagers

Abby Pikett, Staff Writer

The Origin of Stress

Stress is a prevalent issue among America’s youth, but what happens when an unhealthy amount of stress starts depressing the next generation? Multiple factors contribute to the high levels of stress appearing among teenagers in high school. Although solving this issue may not be possible, learning how to cope and limit stress in today’s children could help decrease a bigger issue, depression among high schoolers.

Stress levels in teenagers can rise due to a multitude of stressors, which are events or environments that an individual would consider demanding, challenging or threaten the individual’s safety. These include demands of school or work, unsafe living conditions, unstable home environments, bullying, obesity, social issues, isolation, traumatic events, drug use, chronic illnesses, overly high expectations, negative thoughts and self doubt. In fact, school is the main cause of stress among teenagers in the United States.

“One of the best things you can do to manage your stress, maybe not prevent stress, but manage it, is good time management. So, plan ahead and space things out. When you are planning you should also plan free time, like a mental break,” said Jessica Crooks, psychology teacher at Athens Drive.

The Effects of Immoderate Stress

While small amounts of stress can be good for the body, like helping someone accomplish tasks more efficiently or boosting memory, chronic stress can ultimately lead to major depression in youths. When people are overly stressed, they begin to neglect healthy practices within their life and this can increase the risk of depression. Yet it is important to note that stress and depression are not the same thing. Both of them are prevalent in high schoolers and teenagers but both they have different causes and effects on adolescents. However, the inability to cope with extraorb

itant stress can lead to depression.

“Though researchers, doctors and other experts do not know that it is possible to prevent depression altogether, you may be able to learn to manage stress if you have already had an

episode. While there are many researched based methods that can be explored, some therapists use an approach called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to
do that,” said Jeffrey Broyles, school psychologist at Athens Drive. “MBCT combines cognitive therapy, which changes the way you think, with mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to focus on what is going on in the present. The method aims to help people with high stress and/or depression be aware of their negative thoughts and learn to change them. Other effective preventative ideas involve medicine (as prescribed by qualified physicians), lifestyle changes, and nutrition.”

Stress is a common contributor to depression which can also create issues for high schoolers. A survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that many teenagers reported feeling overwhelmed or depressed because of their high stress levels. The survey also showed that 83 percent of the teenagers surveyed said that school was a significant source of stress.

“You have to understand that there are many different causes of depr

Photos by Abby Pikett
Martha Davies-Cutting, sophomore, stresses out over her STEM research paper.

ession. Some of them might be genetically linked, some of them might be environmentally linked, so stress could be one of many environmental factors. I do not think it is a cause and effect, but I do think [stress] might be one of many causes. Stress could be a factor in causing depression. Stress is caused by stressors, so stress is the body’s physiological response to a stressor in the environment,” said Crooks.

Coping Methods for Stress

Stress can not be completely avoided by people, especially teenagers, since stressors will often appear in their daily lives. Healthy coping methods and strategies can be used to help them manage their stress, though. These include exercise, sleep, create a balance between school and fun, set aside time to enjoy yourself and talking to someone you feel comfortable with.

“Doing something you are passionate about is an excellent destressor. Music, sports or art are some common passions that will take you away from the situation for a bit. Reminding yourself there is good in the world is key to reducing stress,” said Cooper Sykes, junior. “My advice would be to take yourself away from the situation for a bit. Walk outside, take a nap, whatever it takes to get your mind off your stressor for even a bit, and then you will be much better off coming back to it.”

Depression may stem from excessive stress

In teenagers, excessive stress is not innocuous and if protracted, it can take a toll on the mind and body and result in depression. However, depression can often go undetected as symptoms can come off as natural teenage behavior and moodiness as they can begin with irritable moods and withdrawal from activities.

Signs to look out for with depression are prolonged periods of anger, hostility, lack of enthusiasm for generally liked activities, restlessness, lack of motivation, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and hopeless feelings.

“Stress often makes it harder for me to talk through other emotional problems or feelings I might be going through. It also keeps me up when I am trying to sleep,” said Aliyaa Pathan, sophomore.

Students can exhibit two types of depression. The more common type, major depressive disorder, affects teenagers as they go through severe periods of depressive symptoms for seven to nine months. The other, dysthymia, in which depressive episodes can lead to students falling behind in the healthy development process and can last up to a couple of years.

“One of the best ways to understand where an individual’s stress stems from is to engage in open and honest communication with a trusted individual about stress. It is important for teenagers to normalize the concept of stress and become empowered by utilizing adaptive coping strategies with the guidance of parents and other trusted individuals,” said Broyles.

To cope with stress and depression, many students may try to avoid their feelings through substance abuse, drugs, alcohol or sexually promiscuous behavior. Students may also show signs of depression through contentious, aggressive or risky behavior. These behaviors only further the spiral of depression as they can lead to strained relationships with friends and family and could involve the school officials and the police.

“I deal with stress either through complaining or just working it out through exercise,” said Joey Bridgham, sophomore.

Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts

Additionally, if left untreated, this constant depression from stress can lead to self-harming or suicidal thoughts and feelings and may require therapy or counseling. Suicide is the third leading cause of death between people aged 15 to 24 and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that “among students in grades 9-12 in the United States, 17 percent seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months,” as stated by Psycom.

A study performed by the National Institute of Mental Health also revealed that an estimated 3.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2016. That number represents 12.8 percent of the US population in that age group.

In these extreme cases of depression, seeing a doctor may be beneficial as symptoms will not get better on their own. Psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal and medication can also help adolescents to help treat incredibly depressive or suicidal feelings.

How Schools Can Help to Reduce Stress

Since school is a major stressor for many American teenagers, reducing the stress in high school environments could help limit the stress on students. Strategies of reducing the stress caused by school include not assigning homework on weekends or holidays and incorporating better buddy programs. Social issues are a stressor for teenagers and many students worry about fitting in or making friends. Another plan would be to incorporate yoga into P.E. classes. Evidence shows that yoga can improve the mental health of students, no matter their age.

“[Schools can] educate students about stress and the negative impact it can have on their health and provide students with information on positive ways to prevent and manage stress,” said Dean Wright, counselor at Athens Drive.

Stress in teenagers can be detrimental if ignored. Since the adolescent brain is more sensitive to stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine, it can suffer damage from stress that can last into adulthood. At the same time, because the adolescent brain develops so rapidly, healthy coping habits for stress can also last into adulthood.

“I feel like school work stresses me out because I have a lot to do outside of school and adding on all the homework makes me feel worried,” said Amira Tremelling, junior.

Stress in high schoolers will remain an issue for the foreseeable future but teaching America’s teenagers how to cope with the effects of stress is an important factor in their future. Though stress does not always lead to depression, when it does, it is vital that students have a safe space to talk about their struggles.

“I remind myself to take one day at a time, to deal with whatever is in front of me, one thing at a time. Thinking about the struggles the next day will bring with it amplified stress and so much more,” said Heeba Shaikh, sophomore. “I remind myself that whatever comes my way, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”