We're Just Under a Little Stress
- 15 Posts
- Age 20
Here are some of the things I learned from school. Like how sometimes, school counsellors will ask you invasive questions, like ones regarding your sexuality, and they promise to hook you up with a conversion therapy to help you. How teachers favour some students more than others, and have no qualms assuring one of their worth while ignoring the emotional needs of the others. I learned that the peer group that’s supposed to help students with their mental health issues consisted of backstabbers and bullies, and most of them suffered from depression themselves. I learned how to quell panic attacks, and how to make yourself look like you haven’t just been crying in the bathroom. In my first semester of pre-university, I had to learn and memorize the effects of stress and how to handle it.
It’s commonly said, but unless you’ve been through it yourself, you don’t know the struggles of someone suffering from mental illness while juggling formal education at the same time.
Is it a surprise? We are told now that the competition is tougher than it’s ever been before, that the accreditations revered in the past might not even get you an entry-level job these days, that you have to be a hundred and one things just to impress a college’s admissions committee. Things like an increased workload, a constant and pressing insistence on a student to be involved in activities outside of the classroom alongside excelling in their studies, the rising cost of a privatized education system and student debt, and in Malaysia, an education system that just can’t seem to make up their minds, only add to the list of things a student worries about.
Depression and anxiety are isolating, so even if you’ve been through or are currently going through it right now, it’s hard to stand in solidarity with other sufferers and offer them support, because everyone’s struggles are different. This is bleak enough. There are parents who may not understand, or expect things from you that are incongruent with your wishes. Then there are just people who generally do not understand what things like depression entails, and what it does to a person, because of a lack of awareness. Having an unsupportive peer group and circle of friends is tough on a mentally healthy person. Finally there are the teachers, or lecturers and professors, who should understand given their experience and age, but most can’t even seem to put on a caring front.
I think saying that the education system is stressful is an understatement. Sometimes, the educators and higher-ups try to pass off stress as a good thing, claiming that a little bit of stress is necessary to provide students with a push towards success. Yet, at least locally, their resources for handling students whose mental health is at stake are woeful.
For all intents and purposes, we have come a long way in helping students with mental health problems. With counselling and therapy sessions offered on and off campuses, we have recourses that we never previously had access to. At best, counselling can provide a way for you to deal with your problems. Like most solutions these days, it's a palliative. The debt doesn't go away. The carnivorous environment of competition doesn't go away. The workload waiting for you at home or in your dorm rooms doesn’t go away. And the mental health issues definitely do not go away. But the effectiveness of such services isn’t guaranteed, and the stigma surrounding mental illness can restrict a student's options. This is, of course, assuming you have access to a counselling service or similar resource offered by your school in the first place.
It is not uncommon to hear that a student has taken their own life due to the stress and pressures of academia. It is not uncommon to hear of students from all levels of education, from primary to a doctorate, exhibit a range of behaviours related to mental health problems from self-harm to eating disorders. It is not uncommon for a list of tips to prepare yourself for school/college include how to handle stress. So the question is, are the existing conditions sustainable? Is the current education system that prioritizes results and the training of youth as a resource to become ‘productive members of society’ over students’ wellbeing worth defending?
Read up on*:
*A lot of statistics and infographics made readily available are centered around the U.S. education system. However, it does not take a particularly keen eye to observe similar patterns occurring in other countries (with varying intensity), including Malaysia.
Every country and community has services and hotlines available that offer emotional support. For Malaysians, you can contact Befrienders Malaysia. Their hotline is available 24/7.