High school graduation season is usually a celebratory time of year, but the journey to the diploma for some comes with a undue amount of stress and anxiety.
Dr. Marshall Bruner, the Clinical Director for Center Point in Gainesville, said in his four years with the counseling non-profit, he has seen increasing numbers of students who are anxious, stressed and even depressed during their high school years.
"The main issues that we see are anxiety and stress and sometimes even physical complaints from students saying 'Oh, I can't do enough to earn the grades that I need to get into X-school, X-college,'" Bruner said. "Of course, we see also depression because they don't meet those oftentimes unrealistic standards."
Bruner said gaining acceptance to the so-called perfect college has become more difficult because the standards have been raised. Students with good or average grades or students with few extracurricular activities on their resumes often face rejection by their "dream" school.
"The rejection rate at UGA, for instance, has gone way up. I think a lot of that has to do with the HOPE scholarship and the funds available," Bruner said. "But, then there's also the thought that you have to go to a school like a UGA in order to be successful."
He said students too often embrace the idea that there's a perfect college for them.
"I don't think that really exists - that perfect college - but people will put that kind of pressure on themselves."
Bruner said many times the pressure on students is self-imposed, but it can come from parents, and often it comes during a student's senior year when a decision about post-high school plans is imminent.
"We have to change that mindset," Bruner said. "Whatever student we're talking about may or may not be able - because of their academic abilities, their cognitive abilities, their extracurricular [involvement] - to meet the requirements to meet the standards [of a specific college]. But also, that student may not want to go or be inclined to go...to that college."
Bruner mentioned the recent college cheating scandal involving actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. He said he's never faced that level of drama with parents he's counseled. Typically, a simple conversation about a student's abilities is sufficient.
"Sometimes you just looks at the facts. Sometimes that's the best way to get through to folks. You say 'Here are the requirements and here's what we're looking at with your child,'" Bruner said. "Most of the time they get it and they start changing their thoughts, reducing the pressure on themselves and on their children to hit these unrealistic expectations."
Bruner noted that the options for students have changed drastically over the years, saying when he was in high school, he had the option of choosing an academic track, a non-academic track or a vocational track for his high school career. Now, students have a myriad of options. No matter the choices, the idea, he said, is to get serious with a plan by the end of eighth grade.
"Of course, goals could change over four years, but at least it gives you an idea," Bruner said. "One thing I do is encourage families to continue to have conversations all along the way. Not every day, but once a semester at least."
Those frequent conversations can help determine if the student needs to change course before getting too deep into their high school career. It also helps parents notice if a student is getting overwhelmed by the demands of the classroom.
He said if the student starts to question his or her worth based on grades or other forms of achievement, that's a clear sign that the student may be suffering from more than typical stress.
"If there's physical difficulties - stomach pains, gastrointestinal issues - not just having a slump in mood, but a sustained drop in mood that doesn't seem to bounce back...that's when we feel that it may be time to have a talk with a professional," Bruner said.
Center Point, by the way, serves students and adults in two locations in Hall County. Follow this link to find out more.