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Mental health should not be a trade-off for academic success, they work together

PMG FILE PHOTO - Reem AlharithiEvery year students are flooded with syllabi filled with class expectations and grading scales. What is often left out of these detailed course overviews is how to live up to these goals, how to manage this class and others, and what to prioritize — all crucial aspects of academic success. Todd Jones, 2019 Oregon Metro Teacher of the Year, would emphasize to all students that taking care of mental and emotional health is key to success.

"In the time I have been at West Linn High School, students are putting more on their plates than ever before in terms of extracurricular activities and challenging course schedules," says the WLHS social studies teacher.

With 21 years of teaching under his belt, Jones has expressed his concern for students' mental health in recent years.

"It used to be if someone took three AP classes, we would think, 'Wow! That person is really pushing themselves!' Now we have people who fill their schedule with nothing but AP, and I'm concerned for those individuals because I'm concerned about them overwhelming themselves."

Jones' concern isn't unwarranted. According to the American Psychology Association's 2014 "Stress in America" survey, 31% of teens reported feeling stressed and 36% of teens reported feeling tired due to stress. In addition to these concerning statistics, 42% of teens reported not doing enough to manage their stress.

Jones's advice needs to be heard and acknowledged by more than just his own students. Prioritizing mental and emotional health is necessary in not only preventing both short-term and long-term physical side effects of stress, but in maintaining overall health, which according to the CDC's 2015 study on "Health-Related Behaviors and Academic Achievement Among High School Students," directly correlates with academic performance.

There are a variety of ways to maintain mental and emotional health that Jones recommends to his students. They include getting adequate sleep, maintaining a proper balance of challenging classes and enjoyable hobbies, getting proper nutrition and different techniques of reducing stress such as limiting screen time and having more meaningful interactions with friends. Jones is aware that this is hard to prioritize. He isn't deaf to the pressures students are under to sacrifice their mental well-being in order to achieve their goals.

"They are hearing from social media, they're hearing from friends, they're hearing from their parents, they're hearing that it's harder to get to the college you want to get to, that there's certain things you have to do to impress us, to make us happy," he said.

What Jones encourages these students to do is not to give up pursuit, but to do so in a smarter fashion. There is a way to alleviate their heavy load and find a way to balance their goals and their health. Mental health should not be a trade-off for academic success, they work together.

Reem Alharithi is a junior at West Linn High School.

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