Monday, December 1, 2014

Privilege, Pressure, & Perfectionism

On Friday, our class had the privilege of hearing former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz, speak about how Ivy schools have a detrimental effect on the students who attend them. He focused mainly on college students. However, he briefly addressed upon the idea that high-achieving students in affluent neighborhoods tend to have more cases of depression than lower-class neighborhoods. Living in Winnetka, an affluent neighborhood, this thought stayed with me throughout the day... Are the expectations of being a successful student in a wealthy area, like the North Shore, too high?

Dereseiwicz also mentioned the book, The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine, Ph.D. which is also about this topic. Levine wrote her book after being a psychologist for 25 years. She argues that students in affluent areas are experiencing "epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse". I see this first hand at New Trier, for I know students who have suffered with depression as a result of the high expectation of being "perfect".

The percentage of students with depression goes up remarkably during the ages of 16 and 17. This is  when students are beginning to apply for colleges, which causes high-stress levels for students (especially in affluent areas). The graph ends in 2011, but the graph shows that the percentage is on the rise.

1 in 10 Americans will have depression at some point in their life, and according to people like Deresiewicz and Levine, this number is even higher in areas such as ours. The number of people diagnosed with depression increases by approximately 20 percent each yearIt is important that parents, teachers, and even other students put less pressure on students. For if this pressure builds up too much and the student puts too much pressure on themselves, then one could possibly become depressed and this number could become even higher.

Unfortunately, this issue is not an easy fix, and I do not even know how to begin to prevent these high numbers of depressed students. In the words of Deresiewicz, "I don't know how to solve things, I just complain about them." Parents can stop putting so much pressure on their children; however, I think this will only get us so far. High-achieving students somehow have engraved into their minds that they have to be "perfect" and put pressure on themselves to be exactly that. 

How do you even turn off that switch that tells these students they have to be perfect?

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