Thrive on Campus//

Anxiety Among American Students Is On the Rise, As Is Injustice

An open letter to parents of a broken educational system.

Marie Maerz / Shutterstock
Marie Maerz / Shutterstock

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Approximately 4.4 million children aged 3-17 years have been diagnosed with anxiety (CDC, Children’s Mental Health, April 2019). Approximately 1.9 million children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed depression (CDC, Children’s Mental Health, April 2019). A total of 6.3 million teens suffer from depression (as per the Institute of Mental Health) and of these, only about 20 percent get treatment.

Dear Parents,

I know you want the best for your kids, but sometimes what you consider “the best” can be “the worst.” I beg you not to be that paranoid and stressful parent that affects their child’s happiness and wellness, in exchange for your own expectations. I beg you not to harm our system. We are immersed in a society corrupted by default, with parents not only pushing their kids to stressful and illogical choices and terrible standards, but some of them having cheated the system, taking away opportunities from others and affecting their own children in the long term. It is indeed a culture of injustice, a disservice that transcends our civilization.

I consider myself a lucky kid, with the privilege of having a home, a caring family, and hope for the future. I worked hard to get admitted to a good university and yes, it’s a stressful process no matter what, but there are ways to go through this with a normal level of stress, one that keeps us going and teaches us something valuable.

I consider myself blessed for the gift of being exposed by my family and the organization I volunteer for, The Believe in Kindness Foundation, to concepts that are not in the horizon or the DNA of any of my peers. These concepts guided my experience over the last few years as a high school student (I am now 18 years old), having to go through the stress of our everyday American life: full of pressure, pressure for good grades, peer pressure, and pressure of looking good academically, socially — and even ethically so that we can get into top universities and “succeed” in life. I am the President and Founder (with my sister Daniella) of the Believe in Kindness Foundation, BIK CLUB, at NSU University School. I wear pink proudly, I learned to knit, I speak about kindness, and I even support and direct kindness workshops, where I draw smiley faces and write kind notes to underprivileged kids. I proudly wear my club hat that states “Be Kind [Always]”. Furthermore, I strongly believe that kindness is an agent of social change, and is the base foundation for a better humanity and future. I think caring should be at the base of any educational institution and home among our society. I also learned to be kind to myself, to measure reality and apply perspective, to live a mindful life through balancing the challenges of our everyday, and the pressure society imposes on us students. It’s tough, though important, to learn to balance our values of happiness and purpose.

I once thought it was impossible to succeed in life, impossible to get into a good college, and impossible to be a businessman. How can you succeed in life when you feel you have no time and tons of anxiety? Not having top of the class grades, not being motivated by anything but competitiveness (which I am not), not opening conversations with your teachers because you feel that they don’t care? How can you be self-dependent and successful if you don’t have an authoritative stern personality of the typical “CEO,” a personality I see as rough, and a lack of kindness in a culture of money, success, and strong rules, a workaholic attitude in life? That was the time when I learned some kindness concepts and applied them to my own life.

First of all, I decided to balance my life between academic goals and social life and to be OK with the outcome favoring my happiness as a human being. I also discovered a new business profile that attracted me to choose a path intertwining business and psychology by majoring in business management and minoring in psychology. This profile was given to me through the knowledge of Adam Grant, well-known psychologist, author, and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, that talks about a culture of givers and the role of a leader as opposed to a dictator of a company.

I am about to leave my caring and loving family and my phenomenal academic and social foundation at NSU University School to pursue a career in business and psychology at the Kelley School of Business of Indiana University, where I hope to continue to balance my life and spread kindness wherever I go — to build a better world, one where teens live with reduced pressures of getting into colleges and more inviting social lives, one where people can thrive and be themselves, one where there’s space for life apart from study and work, where there is space to smell, to taste, to live the life that you envision, being present and enjoying it. A world of less anxiety and more kindness, one of less depression and more justice.

Written by: Sebastian Ludmir, a high school senior.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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