STUDENTS BLAME STRESS PROBLEMS ON COMPETITION
Boston Globe, Nov 19, 1987
ACTON – Forty-nine students at Acton-Boxborough’s junior and senior high schools have been hospitalized in the last three years for the same ailment — stress and stress-related conditions.
Dr. John Kulig, director of adolescent medicine at New England Medical Center, said teen-agers under a great deal of stress tend to get depressed or develop headaches, chest pains and abdominal pains.
Studies indicate that 20 percent of high school seniors exhibit signs of mental illness attributable to stress. An equal number of college students show stress-related symptoms, according to Dr. Paris C. Faigel, director of health services at Brandeis University.
Author: Associated Press
Date: Nov 19, 1987
Start Page: 41
Text Word Count: 345
STUDENTS AT SUBURBAN SCHOOL PLAGUED BY STRESS BLAME SEVERAL FACTORS
JOHN KING , Associated Press
Nov. 18, 1987 6:26 PM ET
ACTON, MASS. ACTON, Mass. (AP) _ Forty-nine students at Acton-Boxborough’s junior and senior high schools have been hospitalized in the last three years for the same ailment – stress and stress-related conditions.
Students blame intense academic competition at the schools in the affluent Boston suburb, while administrators point to a failure to teach adolescents how to cope. Experts on stress and adolescence say the problem is not unusual, but that it is not common to hospitalize such students.
A dozen high school students interviewed Tuesday said they felt pressure from parents to perform well in school. They also cited a highly competitive atmosphere that leads to peer stress and demanding teachers.
”I feel it,” said Ed Dischino, a junior. ”You can’t see it because nobody talks about it in terms of stress or pressure. But it’s here.”
High school Principal Lawrence McNulty did not want to talk about stress Wednesday, saying, ”We’re not interested in making mountains out of molehills.”
But Andy Palmer, the school’s counseling director, is keeping a list of students who have been hospitalized.
”We’re in an affluent community. There are higher expectations here,” Palmer said Wednesday. ”I don’t think the answer is to lessen the demands but to teach coping skills to help the kids deal with it.”
Most students admitted to hospitals were suffering from depression or had made suicidal gestures, about one-third had alcohol and drug problems linked to stress, said Palmer. A few were admitted because of stress syndromes attributed to family problems, he said. The students were hospitalized at the recommendation of family doctors or by an area agency that provides counseling or other services, Palmer said.
Palmer is visiting other schools to see how they deal with stress. He also is asking the school committee to adopt a crisis intervention policy. The school system is a few months into a six-month study during which students, parents, teachers and therapists are being interviewed.
Dr. John Kulig, director of adolescent medicine at New England Medical Center, said teen-agers under a great deal of stress tend to get depressed or develop headaches, chest pains and abdominal pains, as opposed to the ulcers and high blood pressure associated with adult stress.
He and Dr. Paris C. Faigel, director of health services at Brandeis University, said it was highly unusual for students to be hospitalized for stress and related ailments.
”I’m not sure in the past we would have identified these kids as suffering from a stress syndrome. Maybe it’s a good sign,” Faigel said. ”Mabye it means we’re finally paying attention to the young folks and the stresses of their lives.”
Studies indicate that 20 percent of high school seniors exhibit signs of mental illness attributable to stress, Faigel said. An equal number of college students show stress-related symptoms, he said.
”I just think we’ve forgotten to teach the coping skills,” Faigel said. ”Those skills begin at home and kids nowadays are reaching adolescence about the time mom and dad are caught up in their own mid-life crisis and are distracted by it and unable to help their kids.”
In the past, Acton-Boxborough, which has 1,400 students in the high school and 700 in junior high school, was overshadowed by its suburban neighbors. But in recent years it has won several academic and athletic honors.
”About 95 percent of the kids who graduate from here go to college,” said junior David Hickey. ”There’s a lot of the snob appeal, kids saying ‘I’m going to Harvard.’
”All the parents are really stressing the need to go to a good college. So the parents put a lot of pressure on their kids, or the kids put a lot of pressure on themselves because they don’t want to upset their parents.”
Freshman Cheri Mehigan is new to the school. But she’s learning fast.
”I can’t use the phone after 7:30,” she said. ”All of my brothers are wicked brains and are in college and I got one C-plus.”