Balancing Mental Health and School

A diverse group of high school students sitting outside with school work. A blue and white sign in the corner reads, "Mental Health Matters".

Balancing Mental Health and School

by Divya Rao

For students graduating high school this Spring, college decision season has come to an end. After National Decision Day on May 1st, students are reflecting on the academic experiences that have led to this day and their consideration of mental health throughout high school.

Thoughts on trying to cope with the stresses of high school and impending college decisions are at the forefront of high school students’ minds. How do students put forth their best efforts towards all the other commitments they have made to give themselves the best chance for success during college decision season, while also prioritizing their mental health? “You have to try and find a balance. Which, obviously, is very easy to say,” states Naina Rao, a student graduating this June. 

Another point this student brings up is about the entirely new set of challenges college brings. “I’m going to work so hard to get this admission! Then you get in, but now to stay there and still succeed, you have to work at a higher level. Now your mental health goes on the decline again.” Simply getting into college isn’t the end of all worries, and just prioritizing mental health strategically within the ebbs and flows of academic pressures is not sustainable.

A widely held perception among students is that mental health and academic effort are mutually exclusive. When increased academic effort isn’t necessary, mental health is tended to, and when finals season comes around, habits return. This is particularly worrying, because adverse mental health may be directly associated with academic stressors. A study published in Psychology in the Schools, concluded that perceived academic stress is associated with negative indicators of mental health, and may place adolescents at increased risk for experiencing negative outcomes.

One solution to this unsustainable strategy of coping with academic pressure is for students to look for mental health support. While many campuses offer free counseling, referrals to youth providers, and other resources, utilization is ultimately up to individual students. A study published by the American School Health Association concluded that students’ endorsement of stigmatized beliefs about mental health problems was associated with the quality of the educational environment and the connectedness of the school setting. Stigma surrounding mental health is a huge barrier to accessing available resources, but campuses that actively push for openness and knowledge about mental health are moving in the right direction.

According to Yash Bhatt, another high school student graduating this year, reaching out to mental health resources for students throughout high school is becoming less stigmatized, and “won’t result in a judgmental response from other students.” Naina Rao explains that “if someone has a mental health issue, it’s the same thing as a broken leg. They need time to recover, it’s just not something you can see from the outside all the time.” 

Bearing academic pressures while prioritizing mental health is a learned skill that students finding their way through high school and higher education can find useful. Students seeking out mental health support to face the challenges of pursuing education can explore a multitude of different avenues. Fortunately, it appears that the perception of mental health across high school campuses poses an optimistic future where it may be easier for students to seek out support during difficult times, including the college application and admissions seasons. 


Local resources: Mental Health Resources for BIPOC individuals, Finding a Mental Health Provider, Youth Peer Support

Contact NAMI Seattle’s Helpline by calling or texting (425) 298-5315 or emailing helpline@namiseattle.org

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