Picture of a stresed student

Here at The Creative Mental Health Charity, PoetsIN, we are all about open and honest discussion when it comes to our mental health. The more we speak, the easier it becomes and the less stigma there is attached to these discussions. In the 4 years we have been a charity, we have seen a huge shift in attitudes with this stigma, but there is a long way yet to go. It’s for this reason that we welcome guest blogs from people of all ages to share their mental health story with us. Dearest readers, we are chuffed as little appleseeds to introduce this blog from a young person and volunteer – Ella McCarthy. Over to you, Ella.

If, like me, you spend way too much of your free time on TikTok you may have seen the ‘sad gifted kid burnout’ trend. People show their mountains of classic novels they read to appear smart to others, their many hobbies they tried to master and their grades gradually decreasing from A*’s to D’s. As I watched the videos under this hashtag, I started to realise that I related to many of them. I like to read classic books; mostly because I love them but there may be some part of me that subconsciously thinks it is superior. I have loads of different hobbies such as cross stitch and jewellery making and often get frustrated if I cannot perfect them instantly (which is why crochet is not currently on my list of hobbies). Now I was never labelled as gifted however I consistently got very high marks on my school tests. This was something everyone came to expect from me, but I never felt I could keep up with their expectations. I stopped working hard because I enjoyed my subjects but because I placed all my worth on my grades. I craved academic validation. I thought that in order to be worthy I needed that A*.

Teenager on TikTok

You may have seen the ‘sad gifted kid burnout’ TikTok trend.

This will probably come to no surprise to you, but this has ruined my mental health.

Many students have probably been failed by the education system in the same way. Exams mean that our grade, if we get into university and our whole future rely on a few weeks going well. We spend hours and hours leading up to it revising late into the night only to wake up early the next day to repeat the tedious, exhausting process all over again. This long slog continues for years while we tell ourselves it’ll all be worth it, and that we’ll have time to relax in the future. But this stress-free future never comes as we just move from one exam to the next, one level of education to the next until we are eventually expected to be a fully formed adult at the end with absolutely no skills except how to memorise bond angles. The hard work never ends as there is always more you can do. If I had a penny for every time I thought ‘I need to do another hour of revision tonight, I bet others have done double the amount I have’, I would be rich enough to bypass this whole education experience and live the rest of my years reading my classic books in a mansion.

University Graduates

A stress-free future never comes as we just move from one exam to the next.

A fear of failure means that we have never done enough work. You need to put in the hours now and it will pay off in the future, right? But what they neglect to tell us is you will not do your best if you are too focused on grades and stop learning because you enjoy the content. A-Level Psychology was my favourite subject until I became so focused on getting 100% that I stopped learning out of interest but out of necessity. Luckily, I have reframed my view recently as I realised that this is a bad way to view learning. I enjoy my subjects and I should be learning out of enjoyment, meaning I can put in the hours without it feeling like a chore getting the same grades as before but without the terrible implications to my mental health. If I always focus on being perfect, I will never be satisfied. I could always gain one more mark or add one more piece of research to my essay, but it’s exhausting to keep up with the high standards and the rigorous demands I set for myself.

Depressed student

Teenagers who feel like they need to fulfil certain conditions are more likely to develop depression.

Now as an aspiring Clinical Psychologist, I had to look at this through a psychological perspective. The famous Psychologist Carl Rogers proposed the idea of conditions of worth. This is when someone believes they need to achieve certain criteria in order to earn positive regard from our loved ones. This idea can be applied to the academic system as many people believe that they need to get high grades in order to fulfil their conditions of worth. This has been proven to have negative implications for a student’s mental health. Harter et al (1996) completed a study that found that teenagers who feel like they need to fulfil certain conditions in order to earn their parents’ approval are more likely to develop depression. This suggests that we need to re-think how we view the education system. I highly doubt the obvious flaws of placing so much importance on a few weeks of exams will be fixed anytime soon so we as students need to make sure we prioritise our mental health and don’t place our whole worth on our grades. You are worth more than a A*.

Thanks so much to Ella McCarthy for this heartfelt and candid piece about something many of us might look on as a positive thing. There’s always another side to the story. We wish you the best of luck managing the pressure of being a student. We are always here for you. If you have a mental health or wellbeing story that you would like to feature, please get in touch in all the usual ways or email us on info@poetsin.com

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