Did you know that one in three (33%) school students don’t know what they want to do after school?
That means one in three young people finish school potentially suffering a lack of certainty about their future. This often sees young people going into a uni degree or some other course for the hell of it when they’re not truly interested or sure about it.
This can actually make the problem worse, leading to a snowball effect of existential crises that can lead to mental health problems. While this might sound intimidating, as a parent there are things you can do to help your child navigate their post-school anxiety.
The first step is to better understand mental health yourself, so we’ve prepared a little explainer on how stressing about what they’re going to do after school can lead to anxiety and depression in young adults.
At Year13, after extensive work dealing with the post-school transition, this is how we’ve summarised the post-school anxiety situation many young people confront when they don’t know what they want to do with their future. It goes as follows:
Stress leads to anxiety which leads to frustration which leads to fear which leads to depression.
To break this down a little further:
- A stressed mind is incapable of making clear and concise decisions. That’s why soldiers for example go through stressful training environments to develop a cognitive response to stress so they can think clearly when needed. However, many school students do not yet have these learned ways of coping with stress, which brings us on to the next point.
- If a young person is stressed, they can’t make clear and concise decisions, in this case about what they want to do after school. And that can cause anxiety, which is a future-state emotion in which they forecast a negative future for themselves.
- When they are unable to build a clear picture of a positive future, it leads to frustration which causes unhealthy introspection and the likelihood of a young person asking themselves unconstructive questions like “why don’t I have the answers?” and “why can’t I think clearly?”
- Once frustrated, they then start comparing themselves to others who seem to have it all worked out which leads to fear in their decision-making process that they’re being left behind. That fear causes them to choose a career path hastily in the hope that it will buy them time to work things out later.
- This fear response then builds a negative association with further education and employment if they are not compelled by and do not enjoy the work they do, which can come in the form of failed assignments and exams and dropping out, which can lead to depression when they feel adrift and not on course in life.
So now you understand the process a little better you can also break it down with your child in a constructive way to help them understand why they’re feeling the way they do.
The upshot here is that young people should not rush into something after school they don’t really want to do just because they think they might be left behind. In the end, taking an extra year or two to work out what they want to do is nothing in the grand scheme of life.
Instead, get them to consider doing a gap year travelling and working overseas or at home to give them time to figure out what they actually want to do with their life after school.
While feeling left behind your schoolmates can suck, it’s not as bad as what can happen trying to rush things. This however is something most teens cannot fully grasp yet, but by explaining the process above it can better help them to see why it’s better for them to slow down, enjoy their own process, and trust that they’ll arrive at their destination in their own time.
If you suspect your child is experiencing more severe mental health condition such as depression or suicidal ideation, make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
In case of emergencies, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information and support with mental health, check out Beyond Blue.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.