High school students across the country come together to research pandemic stress

A group of high schoolers interested in studying stress among their peers. Then, the pandemic hit.

By Arushi Gupta, Elina Parekh, Rishi Kumra, Samika Saste, Sanchi Kohli, and Sanya Gupta. Edited by Trisha Satish.

Saahas Youth is the youth chapter of the non-profit organization Saahas for Cause which has the mission of educating, empowering, and enabling the South Asian American community. We drafted a survey with questions about family, friends, school, relationships, and health-related stressors. During our research project, we were able to see how high school stress changed before and during the pandemic.

Mental health issues don’t just pertain to high school students, of course, but to all ages. From young children to senior citizens, different parts of our life impact us positively or negatively especially when it comes to types of stress. Still, high school certainly is one of the most stressful parts of our lives. With the pressure of realizing that these four years of our entire lives could determine the rest of it is a scary thought, nevertheless it proves to be true. Having the pressure of grades, family, social media, extracurriculars, and now a global pandemic can break a person but high schoolers run through this obstacle course every day.

High schoolers born in this generation are especially unique because of the role that social media plays in their lives. Since quarantine began, technology and social networks have become an even bigger part of our lives. With beauty standards and popularity playing a key role in our lives, there are so many negative thoughts coming to mind that they can’t possibly focus on anything else. When the pandemic hit all of us, we no longer had the chance to spend time with friends and we lost a lot of them in the process of realizing how superficial some friendships were. Teenagers spend a lot more time with their families at home now, but they also spend a lot more time in their own rooms, trapped in their own minds and fears.

With college and jobs looming in their future; focus is vital but the stress starts to increase and panic overcomes them when it is necessary to keep calm. When we chose to do a project on the Covid-19 stress in high school, we were all able to relate to this to our lives. We all strive to do our best to reach our highest potential and these obstacles are something that everyone struggles with. Therefore, we hope to create a research paper that can show us the impacts these obstacles and stressors have on a high schooler in America during a pandemic.

What role do adult mentors play in our research?

When we do our research in Saahas Youth, a lot of us are new to the topic that we are studying and some are even new to the concept of research. Our adult mentors put in a great amount of time and effort into making sure that we learn not just about the research topic but about how to effectively gather data and create a research paper. Mentors such as Mrs. Payal Sawhney and Mrs. Mrunmayee Gujar help lead our weekly meetings. However, a key tactic that they use is to not just do the work for us, but to teach us how to do it and help us improve along the way. In Google Forms, where we started, it was very simplistic. However, the mentors led us into learning how to use the QuestionPro software in which our final survey is being made. The mentors even held a workshop for us in which Dr. Jashdeep Bhattacharya taught us some basics about statistical analysis for surveys. Another example of their help is the technicalities of conducting research. We even brought in California State University (CSU) professors to help teach us some of the more specific parts of beginning a research project like ours.

What is our personal connection to this project/mental health?

Being students in high school, mental health issues are one of the most prevalent things in our lives. Even if we are not experiencing it first-hand, ask the person next to you and they are probably struggling with some form of depression or anxiety. Throughout my past four years in high school, I have experienced many ups and downs. During these times I have had to give time to myself and prioritize that time so I could work to get better. My lows were low but they were worth fighting through for the highs. Several things could be credited as the source of mental illnesses. One person may say it’s school causing everyone’s stress; another may say it’s all of our extracurriculars. It could be all of the things we face in life stemming from one root cause. One of the biggest things needed when dealing with these mental health issues was to pinpoint the factors playing into our stress and figure out how to alleviate them.

During this global pandemic, mental health issues have been increasing and it has gotten that much harder to pinpoint these stressors. With a severe shift to everyone’s daily lives, more people are faced with mental health issues. Several more factors such as lack of social activity and lack of freedom are now responsible for the decline of mental health in teenagers. We, as a team, had a goal to get down to the bottom of these issues and help out those in need. Our survey serves the purpose to locate specific causes of stress in highschoolers during the COVID-19 pandemic and allow the results to help with dealing with these causes and improving mental health one step at a time.

How will this project impact the resources students are currently getting for their mental health?

Due to COVID-19, a lot of students’ mental health have been affected in tremendous ways that are yet to be discovered through research and data development. Using the results from our data, we will find out how high school students’ mental health have been affected by the pandemic and events caused as a result of it. Once we find out how everyone has been affected as a whole, the next step is to figure out what authority figures, like principals of schools and parents can do to combat mental illness and make the mental health of students a priority.

Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, work is being piled on top of us students and nothing is really being done to prioritize our mental health. This is partly due to schools not having enough resources at the moment to make mental health a priority and partly due to not knowing how to effectively help their students. With the results of our project, we can come up with specific, cost-effective plans that provide students with the resources that will improve their mental health by combating mental illnesses brought on due to the pandemic. Our results will also help spread awareness and alleviate mental health stigma as we present it at mental health events and conferences. By being presented with data, people who are skeptical about mental health and have that stigma could be more open to ways we can solve this problem.

Read a previous guest blog by Saahas Youth: Bridging the Gap: Youth-Run Technology Classes Empower Older South Asian American Communities

Arushi Gupta, Elina Parekh, Rishi Kumra, Samika Saste, Sanchi Kohli, and Sanya Gupta are members of the youth chapter of Saahas for a Cause. Learn more about the organization at www.saahasforcause.org.

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