Issues such as anxiety and depression are best dealt with early. Left to fester and develop they can become lifelong issues. Teens are amongst the most vulnerable groups for the development of anxiety and related disorders so it makes sense to target this group in order to circumvent later problems.
Of course the way we go about such a task is a different issue altogether. It isn’t cool to suggest you’re feeling the effects of anxiety, stress or depression but one universally accepted stress point with all students is exams. Test anxiety is seen as important because teens know it can negatively affect their performance. They are therefore more likely to accept focused information to get them through these difficult times and this is where it gets interesting.
Most schools have some system in place to address test anxiety. In a broader context, the issues of anxiety and stress are often lost or brushed to one side. However, Carl Weems of the University of New Orleans, has demonstrated that anxiety intervention programs that focus on academic issues carry less stigma than mental health programs, yet provide important lessons in coping with more general anxieties.
Although the study focused on the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina which struck in 2005, the test-anxiety-reduction intervention was presented to 325 youths who were experiencing elevated test anxiety. Youths between the ages of eight and 17 were taught relaxation strategies and other anxiety reduction techniques.
Overall, Weems reports that the program was associated with decreases in test anxiety, anxiety disorder and depression symptoms, more so with older students who felt more in control as a result.
This example of a natural fit within the school curriculum provides an interesting approach to mental health. We can’t ignore the fact that mental health issues carry some form of stigma but where an anxiety issue is universally regarded as a problem that needs tackling, as in test anxiety, the opportunities to provide guidance that can generalize into broader settings is something we should be looking into more seriously.
Carl F. Weems, Brandon G. Scott, Rebecca A. Graham, Donice M. Banks, Justin D. Russell, Leslie K. Taylor, Melinda F. Cannon, R. Enrique Varela, Michael A. Scheeringa, Andre M. Perry, Reshelle C. Marino. Fitting Anxious Emotion-Focused Intervention into the Ecology of Schools: Results from a Test Anxiety Program Evaluation. Prevention Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11121-014-0491-1