Family in Focus

Learning to cope

Professionals weigh in on student anxiety, academic pressures

McHenry County Magazine

The start of the school year is fast approaching, and although school can be a positive learning environment, the anxieties and pressures students face in and out of the classroom can make academic success challenging. 

Elizabeth Holtz, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Portrait Health Centers in McHenry, pinpointed these back-to-school struggles and offered advice for students and parents to prepare for them.

Bullying is something students often face – combine that with Internet access, and it can get pretty bad, Holtz says. Cyber-bullying can get especially ugly among students in junior high, she added.

Many students she has seen also experience anxiety. 

“People are usually born with a propensity for generalized anxiety. It’s definitely not a thing you create yourself,” she says, adding that symptoms of anxiety often appear during one’s academic years. 

People with anxiety sometimes struggle with perfectionism, which can lead to procrastination if the person believes they need to turn in “perfect” assignments or projects, Holtz says.

The TV series “13 Reasons Why,” which deals heavily with teen suicide, has been a common topic in Holtz’s discussions with her adolescent clients. Many schools ban the series without explaining why they banned it or why watching the show is not a good way to understand suicide, and this makes kids want to watch it even more, she says. 

One way students can cope with all of this, Holtz says, is to “reach out for help” and “talk to their friends about whether they’re experiencing the same kind of things” because it is comforting to know that they are not alone. 

If students feel their school is not appropriately addressing bullying, anxiety or any other problems they’re dealing with, the students should speak up and let the school know, she says. This can be especially relevant for students with disabilities who need extra help or an individualized education plan.

Parents play an active role in their children’s well-being, Holtz says, and it is important for parents to talk openly about the problems their children face, and about shows like “13 Reasons Why,” both with their kids and with other parents and professionals. 

If your child has problems with anxiety, get them help, Holtz says, because some people suffer for years before even knowing to call it “anxiety.” When pursuing solutions, parents and kids should not seek to cure anxiety – because it cannot be cured – but to manage it successfully, she says.

One tool available to McHenry County residents is the MCHELP app, an anonymous texting service intended for middle and high school students. The mobile app allows teens to find immediate help and support to a licensed mental health counselor 24/7. 

Started two years ago by McHenry County Community Foundation and funded entirely by an anonymous donor, Executive Director Robin Doeden says the texting communication platform is ideal for teens and has been well received.

“In the first two years, we average 40 to 50 unique text conversations a month,” Doeden says. “People can use it if they feel bullied or are struggling over tests and it’s accessible in the moment.”

This year, Doeden says the Foundation has partnered with Centegra and, in addition to texting, there is crisis line access to speak to a person and immediate access to other programs, including information and advice on recognizing signs of suicide.

“We are trying to put crisis and critical services right at someone’s fingertips,” she says.  

With the stress and frustration that comes with being in school, mental health problems can provide further challenges for students, but with these tips in mind, students and parents can work together to face whatever adolescence and school throws at them.

Download the MCHELP app at the Apple Store or through Google Play.

► Learn more from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America by visiting www.adaa.org. To find anxiety support groups in McHenry County, visit groups.psychologytoday.com.

PORTRAIT HEALTH CENTERS
1689 Curran Road, Suite 202, McHenry | 847-868-3435
portraithealthcenters.com

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