Genevieve Lee expected her final year of high school to be stressful, but the 17-year-old realised the pressure had become too great when her behaviour changed completely.
Advice for students
- Stay connected to the things that nourish you: family, friends, sports, hobbies
- Eat well and rest, particularly as exam times near
- Remember, there’s not just one direct path to your future (source: ReachOut)
The vice-captain of Gilroy College in Castle Hill said she felt “so burdened with the pressure” of achieving good marks and pleasing her Fijian parents, it was causing her to procrastinate, forget to eat during the day and completely cut herself off from others.
“I’m such a social person but when stress hits, no one sees me for a solid week, not even my family, she said.
“It got to the point where I was crying every single day.
The stress “got to the point where I wasn’t me” and developed into anxiety, she said.
“I went from being a really confident person to stuttering, feeling sweaty and being nervous about what people would think about me,” she said.
“When that started to happen I realised … this isn’t right.”
Two-thirds of young people are now experiencing “worrying levels” of exam stress, a study by youth service ReachOut has found.
A national survey of 1000 young people aged between 14 and 25 revealed those experiencing worrying levels of exam stress had increased from 51.2 per cent in 2017 to 65.1 per cent in 2018.
Traditionally, expectations from parents and schools have been among the greatest source of stress for young people.
However this year young people were increasingly worried about the future in general (42.8 per cent, compared to 37.1 per cent last year) and getting a job (38.2 per cent, compared to 29.6 per cent in 2017).
Changing workforce causing uncertainty
ReachOut chief executive Ashley de Silva said the growing number of young people worried about the future was likely linked to economic uncertainty, including job prospects and housing affordability.
“They’re being asked to make lifelong career decisions right now and it’s happening against a backdrop of lots of change that’s only getting faster with technology,” he said.
With talk about robots replacing entry level jobs in industries such as accounting and law, Mr de Silva said young people were now asking themselves: ‘Will I have the right skillset for what the market needs in five years time?’
Late-night cram session an important lesson
Liam Maher, also from Gilroy College, said he felt under enormous pressure to perform well in his final exams to reach his goal of studying a Bachelor of Business at the University of Technology Sydney.
“My stress is that if I don’t get the ATAR what am I going to do? I don’t have a backup plan,” he said
The pressure reared its ugly head the night before Liam’s first trial exam last month when he was so stressed he stayed up until 4:00am trying to memorises his work.
“When I woke up I was drained, I could not remember a thing, so from then I had to learn that cramming doesn’t work for me,” he said.
“That whole night was useless.”
Fellow year 12 student Sina Aghamofid, 17, said he had witnessed the outcome when people let stress build up over their final two years of school.
“I’ve seen numerous people who have been hospitalised for six weeks through stress and anxiety and depression because it all adds up,” he said.
More seeking help
Crucially ReachOut’s study also found that the number of young people seeking mental health or medical help had doubled in the past year from 15.5 per cent in 2017 to 30.5 per cent this year.
Online searches for help almost tripled.
Ms Lee says her friends first noticed something was wrong and encouraged her to talk about it.
Her parents also suggested she seek professional help.
She now made sure to take regular study breaks, eat well and be more connected to her family and friends.
She has also learned to use “good stress” as a motivator to do better.