National Suicide Prevention Month: Homework is Killing Us

Jasmine Milliger, Let's Talk About Editor

This story has a trigger warning for mention of depression, self harm, and suicide/suicide attempts. If any of this material may distress you, please read with caution.

 

Too many times have I heard the words “I want to die,” and “I’m actually going to kill myself,” come out of my mouth. Too many times have I seen my friends and family carted off to Shoal Creek and return with stitched up arms. I have been surrounded by suicide too many times.

 

There’s no easy answer.”

 

It’s a problem. Unfortunately, one without an obvious solution. How do we make people happier? Fix the problems in their lives? Increase the seratonin levels in their brains? How do we prevent this from happening again:

 

A brother who stabbed himself in the tongue, ending up hospitalized.

An ex-girlfriend whose mom hung herself 11 years ago.

A friend who missed weeks of school because she almost bled out on her bathroom floor.

A boy from school who hung himself, just like his brother before him.

 

There’s no easy answer, but we can be certain that some things we are doing currently do not help. With school starting, the impending stress of college applications and grades could result in dire outcomes. On average, 117 people commit suicide in the United States every day. A lot of those people are high school students, and not all of them suffer from known mental disorders.

 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 and it is critical that schoolwork not add unnecessary stressors to student’s lives. Westwood, being such a highly academic school, needs to put more focus on mental health in addition to academic success. Students spend more time at school, and on school-related activities, than anywhere else. Since school encompasses such a huge portion of our lives, it makes sense that some of the changes we need to make should come from the school.

 

Mental and physical health require proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise. School has become so GPA- and SAT- centered that students spend their lunches studying instead of eating, their nights doing homework instead of sleeping, and their afternoons doing even more homework instead of going outside and being kids. We can change this mindset. Teachers, counselors, administrators, students, and families can choose to take better care of students’ mental health. If Westwood would put more effort into improving the mental health of students, the outcome would be phenomenal. Students could actually enjoy learning and I wouldn’t hear “This school makes me want to kill myself” every time I walk through the cafeteria.

 

I believe that Westwood holds the key to preventing these problems. As it is now counselors are so busy changing schedules around that they don’t have time to actually counsel.  More counselors should be hired, or the current counselors’ time should be restructured so that they can be available for students who need to talk about non-academic issues. If students could confide in their counselor, the help that students need right now would be easier to access. Without lessening the importance of academics, we need to increase the attention we give to the whole person.

 

According to conventional wisdom, an academically tough high school prepares you for college. But former Westwood students regularly return from college and say that college is “so much easier” than Westwood. That’s great, in a way–it’s great to be prepared. But not if the preparation kills you, wears you out, causes you to lose your passion for learning and for life. It’s worth recognizing that no college student takes eight courses at once. Sure, each course has lots of work, but college students only spend about three hours a day in class, semesters are shorter, and there are not nearly as many assignments to complete as there are in high school. College students have more time to focus on the material for each class without the frantic rush of completing dozens of assignments. Why are we expecting high school students to do so much more?

 

Recent studies have shown that while assigning homework may have academic benefits, it can also cut into important personal and family time. There is a tipping point at which too much time spent on homework ceases to be beneficial and actually works against the student’s success–most obviously by reducing the time spent sleeping or otherwise resting the mind. Quite simply, the amount of time students are expected to work on schoolwork beyond the school day needs to be reduced. There are two approaches we could take to this. Individual teachers could reduce homework assignments, or students could take fewer homework-heavy courses.

 

In AP courses especially, teachers are bound to a certain curriculum that requires them to keep a fast pace. For this reason, it may be difficult for teachers to reduce homework. However, they could at least make an effort to eliminate anything that is not truly essential. Sometimes, volume of work can be replaced with quality or value of the assignment. Teachers should ask themselves if students are really going to learn something from an assignment, if it is really necessary for the ultimate outcome of the course.

 

It’s not fair to place all the blame on Westwood, or college admissions, or any school. Often the pressure to overachieve comes from home, or from within ourselves. Our relentless culture of achievement overshadows other critical aspects of our lives. Is the cost of taking all AP classes worth it? Sure, you’ll get college credits, but you may also develop various mental disorders as a result.  Students and their families need to make better, more balanced choices instead of just automatically registering for all of the most difficult classes at once.

We need to make it acceptable to just be a high school student.”

 

We need to make it acceptable to just be a high school student, to enjoy this time in our lives instead of rushing through it in the name of college credits. Counselors and administrators can support families in making healthier decisions.

 

If putting more attention on mental health means lightening workload and keeping the school work at school, then so be it. School isn’t just seven hours long for five days a week. It’s 24/7 and it’s exhausting. We as a school need to ensure the mental strength of our students because if we don’t, some will get so exhausted that they just can’t handle it anymore. As friends and peers, we can help watch out for each other.

 

 

If you or someone you love is suffering from mental illness or thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-(800)-273-8255 or go to their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.