Election Section

Back to Berkeley: High School Students Struggle With Stress, Depression By ELIZABETH HOPPERSpecial to the Planet

Friday August 26, 2005

Most adults know that being a high school student isn’t easy. However, many would be surprised to learn that the vast majority of teenagers are becoming depressed and losing sleep over problems that are much less superficial than fashion or the high scho ol social scene. 

Bay Area psychologist Dr. Anita Barrows, who has 25 years of experience counseling children and adolescents, estimates that 60 to 70 percent of teenagers are affected negatively by stress. 

According to psychologists, stress can have a variety of effects on teenagers. Although the most common effects of stress are insomnia, stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, and irritability, stress can also be a major factor in depression and eating disorders. Michael Simon, an East Bay psychotherapist, estimates that 60 percent of high school students have their eating habits disrupted in some way by stress and that 20 to 30 percent of teenagers have their mental health affected negatively by stress. 

Most teenagers worry about issues that are much more serious than cliché high school problems such as homework and popularity. According to Bay Area psychologists and teenagers interviewed by the Daily Planet, high school students often worry about being successful, both in the immediate future and later i n life. 

Barrows said teenagers often fear that they won’t make it in a competitive society. Simon points out that teenagers with successful parents often worry about failing to match their parents’ level of success. Many teenagers also worry about living up to impossible standards. One 16-year-old said she often feels as though she has to do “everything perfectly.” 

High school students who are considering attending college may face an even greater level of stress. Simon blamed the media for creating a “publicity machine” surrounding the college application process by compiling lists of the top schools. Barrows points out that trying to gain admission to one of these top schools can be like trying to “win a prize.” 

As high school students strive to win these prizes, their lives are made more stressful by the fact that they are trying to achieve success at the same time that they are trying to determine “who they are and what they want out of their lives,” as Simon puts it. When faced both with the pressure to excel as well as the need to determine their own identities and goals, it isn’t surprising that most teenagers suffer from stress. 

The stress faced by today’s teenagers is more complicated and widespread than it may seem to many adults. According to Barrows, “Parents and teachers like to think of teenagers as lazy—[they] underestimate how seriously teenagers take their lives and how hard it is to be a teenager.” 



What Teens Can Do About Stress 


Bay Area psychologists and teenagers suggest severa l things that high school students can do to reduce stress. All of the items on this list were suggested both by Simon or Barrows and teenagers interviewed by the Daily Planet. 

• Exercise regularly. 

• Talk to someone (such as a parent or friend) about w hat is causing stress. 

• Find a “creative outlet” (according to Barrows) such as art or writing. 

• Participate in a relaxing, noncompetitive activity or hobby. 

• Get enough sleep. 


Berkeley resident Elizabeth Hopper is a senior at Bentley School in Lafayette.