I Felt I Had to Choose Between School and My Mental Health

To most people, school is on the top of their list of priorities. To do well, get good grades, study a ton and excel in your classes are all important. Most people have an end goal: college and a career.

This year as a high school junior, the pressure to be “perfect” in school went to an all-time high. My parents didn’t put pressure on me. They knew I was a successful and bright student, but the pressure I put on myself absolutely slaughtered me. Last May, I had gotten back from residential treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression.

Treatment changed my life in astonishing ways and I am not even near the person I used to be. Prior to treatment, I never went to school. Between sixth and tenth grade, I almost never showed up and was barely meeting requirements. After treatment, I was supposed to start junior year fresh, going all day and completing all my courses. I had the skills I needed from treatment, like exposures for OCD and coping skills.

As a junior, you’re looking at colleges, taking the ACT, SAT or both! You’re fighting to keep your GPA up, while continuing to participate in extracurricular activities to build up a competitive college resume. It was by far the most stressful year, considering it was my first full year of school since sixth grade!

Fresh from treatment, I needed to continue to do what was best for me, like doing my exposures and meditating, but those things became harder and harder with the workload piling up. Because I was in and out of school a ton prior to eleventh grade, I was fighting to get the best grades and to build up my college resume with clubs and volunteer hours in just one year.

I was trying to keep up with the kids who were in school and had competitive grades already. I didn’t have time to do my exposures, exercise to maintain my mental health or meditate. I barely had enough time to do homework at night. How was I supposed to also work on my mental health?

My depression hit an all-time high, at one point even needing to go to the hospital for suicidal thoughts. I wanted to be the “perfect” student, get great grades and be able to have a competitive college application, but I felt like I had to compromise my mental health in order to do it. I was very lucky to have teachers who were understanding and help me through it all, but the pressure I put on myself was utter hell.

Mental health in schools needs to be talked about more and openly. Kids in schools shouldn’t have to feel like they have to compromise their mental health to get into college or get good grades. My therapist told me something that has stuck with me: Without your mental health, nothing else will fall in place. You need to put that first. Nothing is ever worth compromising your mental health.

Balance is a struggle, but our mental health is our number one priority. We should always have the power to put it first. Hopefully, colleges will recognize our special strength and the hard fight we’ve had to put forth in high school, which is hard enough as it is, and to fight for our mental health. I ended up with a 3.8 GPA and almost all A’s, but those things will never be worth comprising my mental health. Never.

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