16 | www.Ups tatePhys i c i ansSC . com | www.Hea l thL i nksUps tate. com One afternoon in the fall of 1969 at Brook Glenn Elementary School in Taylors, 8-year-old Louie Lewis watched as the clock in his third-grade class ticked close to 2 p.m. He and his classmates had just experienced something they could not yet explain – but which they would now do everything in their power to overcome. “Our teacher, Miss Alice Harper, assigned us English and math homework – but gave us the last 30 minutes of class to start,” Lewis recalled. “And we raced like crazy to get it done before the bell rang so we could go home and play all afternoon.” It was Lewis’ earliest memory of school stress, “but something I barely noticed.” But over the next 50-plus years, school stress would build and form into mental health concerns that Lewis could never have imagined – including surpassing 4.0 grade point average standards; completing college courses in high school; the threat of gun violence; health epidemics such as COVID; lack of social privacy; and the challenge of handling increasing loads of homework. Now, with another school year underway in South Carolina, a looming question faces parents, teachers and educational leaders: How are we going to handle all of our school stresses before they permanently damage us? “Academic pressure has increased tremendously for all grade levels,” said Dr. Sara Marcino, psychiatrist and mental health professional with Still Point in Mount Pleasant. “And that pressure now comes with so many other stress factors.” PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE Dr. Marcino pointed out that while factors such as physical bullying, body comparisons and body shaming have long been present in schools, others have evolved over decades into major components of school stress. For example, when advanced preparatory courses were introduced to South Carolina high schools in the 1970s, students could earn a few college credits in advance. Now a few AP credits might not be enough just to be considered for college. “Students also feel pressure to score well on the SAT and from universities who want to see many activities on their resumes, including sports, volunteer work and proficiency in a musical instrument,” Dr. Marcino said. “Our children are now told that their value is proportional to achievements and accomplishments. And I can’t think of a better message to destroy self-esteem.” And with cyber bullying, social media acceptance, COVID strains, environmental concerns and a sharp national political divide, “students are now desperate for some sense of security.” “The current young adult population has seen a lot of instability in their lifetimes,” she said. “The future feels uncertain to them and many of their parents – so they try to study their way to success.” PERSPECTIVE Uncertainty about the future has always led to carried stresses and changing perspectives. Daisy Nesmith of Sumter, walked two miles to school in the 1950s – after doing morning farm chores and helping her sharecropping family. They had no running water, no indoor plumbing and little money to buy school supplies. She worried constantly about “just being able to stay in school.” By the time Harold Moore entered Liberty High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1977, his contemporaries were stressing over their futures based on whether they were succeeding or failing in their present struggles. “Everything revolved around competition – summer jobs, car ownership, high school parking permit, letterman’s jacket and honor society,” said Moore, who now lives in Greenville. “During hunting season, people asked ‘Who killed the deer with the largest rack and how many squirrels did you harvest?’ The tails would be attached to your bicycle handlebars.” Greenville resident Frankie Felder, a 1989 graduate from Florence, chose to home-school all five of her children to prevent “unnecessary school stress that I believe would hurt them later.” “School now is not just about learning – it’s more about academic performance and how you measure up against “The current young adult population has seen a lot of instability in their lifetimes. The future feels uncertain to them and many of their parents – so they try to study their way to success.” — Dr. Sara Marcino, psychiatrist and mental health professional with Still Point in Mount Pleasant.