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Mercury Story about "Our Children Are Hurting"
Original post made
by Concerned Parent, Professorville,
on Feb 6, 2014
The Mercury News ran a front page story this morning about how depression, anxiety and stress are seriously affecting greater numbers of students in our area's schools:
PAUSD student services coordinator Brenda Carrillo's views were mentioned towards the end of the story:
"Brenda Carrillo...said it's important not to blame academic pressure for depression. 'A mental health condition doesn't necessarily come from high expectations,' she said."
This topic has concerned our Palo Alto community for years now. Surely, the current academic pressures, which can be intense for many students, contribute significantly to the emotional stresses students experience, and in some cases (perhaps many) increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety. Can the link between the growing academic pressures and the growing mental health problems be denied? The Mercury story suggests otherwise. Is there an important -- and perhaps nuanced -- connection between the incessant push for academic excellence and the increasing mental health problems that we ought to be examining more closely? Fixing "blame" is not really the issue; facing the reality of the contributing factors, and working on the sources of stress that seem to be preventing healthy development in so many students is more important. Do current levels of academic pressures harm our children's mental health? If so, how? And what can we do about it? These are good questions to be asking ourselves.
Posted by cut the mike!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2014 at 10:55 am
Thank you for your compassionate posts Quoi? My reaction to the turn this thread has taken is that we have a lot of work to do here in Palo Alto in addressing the root causes of student mental health issues.
For starters: Merely because a suicide has taken place in a cluster does not mean that depression, stress, anxiety, and social/ecological factors played no role. The article that "please stop" posted for example recommends that students who are "at risk" for suicide based on what the author calls "preexisting vulnerabilities." These include depression, anxiety, other mental health issues, bullying, prior suicidal behavior, substance abuse and other stressors.
Affluent, high achieving communities like PAUSD (and the others listed by "please stop" such as Ivy League colleges Cornell and Penn, Wellesley, and Lake Forest all have high rates of adolescent depression and related mental health problems including: substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders, shoplifting, and other similar problems. These appear to be problems that are having a higher incidence in high-pressure communities like PA. There are characteristics of these communities that place our students at risk for depression. Depression, and related self-harming conduct such as cutting, in turn places them at risk for more serious self-harm such as suicide.
When a suicide occurs in a community like Palo Alto, it is important to understand that the conditions are ripe for a cluster to occur in part because there are so many depressed, anxious, self-harming kids in affluent high-pressure communities.
However, quite apart from suicide, it is an issue of concern that there are aspects of growing up in a place like PA that is making so many of our kids sick. Our way of living, of assigning very high amounts of homework so we can "beat the competition" for example, of enrolling our kids in round the clock schooling, tutoring, prepping, pre-taking course, college summer institutes, computer camps, and sending the message that you have to be the first, best, highest, mostest, yours MUST GO TO 11, no matter what you want to be, you can BE THE BEST, that is making our kids sick.
It is as if we have built our town on a superfund site, and have a cancer cluster. However rather than abate the hazard we are debating whether or not it's really that bad because after all the houses we built on the contaminated land are selling like hotcakes and we really don't want it to get out that there is an issue because it might diminish the value that outsiders have assigned to our land.
Next:Merely because suicide clusters take place in other places does not mean that we do not have work to do here, or that they do not have work to do in those other places. Teen suicide can be prevented. One of the steps to prevention is identifying the factors that are placing kids at risk. Academic stress, workload, unremitting pressure, persistent feelings of failure and anxiety -- these things place kids at risk for depression, substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders and other issues. Palo Alto, like Wellesley and Lake Forest and other similar places will at some point have to face facts. There is nothing in the fact that other places are also screwed up that means that we are not screwed up. We are, in fact, screwed up. Our values are broken. We are willing to push our kids past a breaking point in order to "win" an illusory contest with "China" or "global" whatever in order to see who can do the most problem sets. Some kids will "win" and some will get sick. Some of those who get sick will die. That is not OK. That is horrible.
The thing that is upsetting Quoi? is the offhand way that "please stop" is relying on the number of dead kids to somehow relieve PA of the responsibility for doing anything about it. Well, the argument goes, there are a ton of dead kids, so there must be nothing we can do about it. That's a logical fallacy and a moral bankruptcy.
Someday we will look back on this and wonder why we did this to our own children. For what? To prove what exactly? For whose benefit? The PA Board of Realtors is happy, so that's one satisfied customer. But childhood only happens once and these kids are overburdened. Some of them can make it. Some can't.