Adolescence is a very tumultuous time in a person’s life. When faced with multiple decisions regarding the future, the pressures and expectations are often overwhelming. Individuals in this age group (15-24 years of age) are more likely to experience mental illness and substance abuse than any other age group. This has led to a surge in mental health problems, many of which stem from the pressures of high school.
Grade 12 is a very demanding year. It asks students to push themselves farther than ever before. It asks students to manage their time effectively and to devote long hours towards studying. Students are to decide what they’d like to study in their undergrad and to apply to universities and colleges. It requires students to be patient while the institutions decide who to accept and who to deny. This stress begins very early, according to Holy Names High School’s Guidance Counsellor, Rob McIntyre, “Stressors with deciding what program to go into starts in grade 10. We have to show them the marks necessary to get into their program of choice, which can be very competitive.”
Stressors can take shape in many different forms including injuries from sports, such as football. Jake Heydon, the former quarterback for Holy Names, chose to stay a fifth year because of the injuries he sustained on the field. “During my grade 11 year, I was facing a lot of challenges [due to] my concussions. It held me back [in my education], and so I had to drop [many] essential classes.” Jake describes the trickle effect that it had on his future plans. “I had to take time to recoup myself and to make sure that I can make the leap from fifth year to university.” The choices regarding applying to post-secondary are overwhelming. From which program to study, to what school to study at, there is an alarming array of options available to students.
However, once the choices have been made, it does not mean that the stressors become elusive. Valentina Bashir, a first-year student in Human Kinetics at the University of Windsor, expressed how the stressors have only magnified. “Family life, homework, mental health, but most importantly, time. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have time to focus on myself, and to have self-care.” Self-care is vital in an individual’s life. It is through self-care that someone can recharge, devote time towards themselves, and prevent mental illness.
These stressors can have profound effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. Jake describes how his physical health has suffered as a result of his injuries due to football. “I have a lot of physical symptoms from my concussions, which range from pounding headaches that are constant, lack of sleep, and another being passing out. When I pass out I don’t remember the three minutes leading into it.” He also describes the repercussions it has had on the relationships in his life, “I’ve lost a lot of friends, as well as [contact] with my family members [due to] everything I’ve been through.” Valentina expresses similar effects due to her stressors, “These things have caused me to become more anxious, degrading my mental health, and decreased socialization with my friends. My marks are dropping because it’s just so much due to my heavy courses.”
Thankfully, many students have developed coping skills; elements that help individuals persevere through challenging times. These coping skills vary depending on each person. Some may seek external help, whereas others may rely on their resources. Valentina finds that watching an episode of a television show helps to distract her from her worries, “I don’t think about school and [my] personal life issues. It puts me in a different world and headspace.” Jake seeks external help from his friends, “Knowing that I can get a good laugh out of them, and just them being my friends is [more] than enough. [When] I don’t know what to do, I have to reach for a bigger help, like teachers.”
McIntyre gives his students advice on how to cope with this pressure. The best way to be successful is to build a strong foundation in grades 9 and 10 and to carry those work habits through the remaining school years. “That is something that puts stress on students, to attain the marks necessary to get into their program of choice, but if we help students become proactive in the earlier years, this may avoid unnecessary stress.” Stress and pressure are inevitable parts of life. They challenge individuals in ways they never thought they’d be challenged. It is also through them, that they may accomplish their greatest goals. However, building your toolbox is the key to success. There is no greater achievement than overcoming hurdles