Finals on the mind

How your brain deals with stress can negatively affect your mental health

Annalise Freimark, News Editor

Mental illness is not something tangible. It’s not something one can see, or touch, or taste. But an alarming truth is that it’s on the rise in students across the globe.

According to the Child Mind Institute, one in five teens struggles with mental illness, with 50 percent of those disorders beginning before the age of 14. Between 2011-2013 in Santa Clara County alone, the number of teen suicides skyrocketed to 10.0 out of every 100,000 of people aged 15 to 24.

Junior Julianna Amireh, although having not been diagnosed, is one of those students.

“I do experience occasional depression as well as social and generalized anxiety,” she said. “It would come to a point where I would be afraid to raise my hand or speak up because I would just be afraid my teacher or other classmates (would) view me as unintelligent.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental health is mainly caused by two components within the brain: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus regulates a hormone called cortisol, which can be triggered to release in excess amounts due to stress, leading to an imbalance that has been traced to depressive episodes. An abundant amount of cortisol can also cause anxiety to manifest itself physically like a fast heart rate or sweat.

The amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of the brain, regulates emotional responses and people coping with depression or anxiety can have an enlarged one, often disrupting sleep and normal, everyday habits.

Another main cause is serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that naturally stabilizes one’s mood, according to Investigative Psychiatry, and when one has a lack of it, it often leads to increasing mental illness.

Many students feel this increase in mental illness can come from finals. With school in general, a study by the American Psychological Association found that teens’ stress levels were higher than the average adult with 31 percent overwhelmed and 36 percent regularly feeling tired. When finals come along, that stress increases immensely and 68.9 percent reporting too little sleep, adding even more mental health issues.  The amount of stress caused by finals, on top of having to deal with life in general, can cause a deterioration in someone’s mental health, especially with the immense pressure to succeed. Having this stress can trigger an influx of cortisol or cause a serotonin deficiency. This increase in someone already suffering from mental illness daily can make life significantly worse.

Junior Rose Gipstein, who suffers from depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and depersonalization, said, “It [mental health] gets significantly worse during finals as there is more pressure…”

The reference to the word ‘finals’ seems like this big scary thing which causes my brain to over dramatize things…”

Even those who don’t suffer from mental health issues find this time of year especially emotionally taxing.

Junior Kishen Morar said, “Sometimes I get stressed, depending on the difficulty of the assignment. For me it’s getting big projects done on time in an orderly fashion.”

Pressure, along with stress, are the two most prevalent emotional stressors that students face during finals, and this problem won’t go away. As school continues to pack on pressure with finals and AP classes, the intensity of the pressure to be perfect rises, often significantly deteriorating one’s mental health.

“It all seems like a competition to see who will get the highest scores or perform the ‘best,’” Amireh said. “I feel like expectations are like a big weight on my shoulders from my parents and teachers. They increase every year… I feel like there’s so much pressure on teens to be perfect.”