Teens at the brink with exam stress on the rise, says youth psychologist

Support: Youth counsellor Kim Dilati is seeing more cases of young people who feel overwhelmed with the pressure of school exams. Picture: John Veage

Support: Youth counsellor Kim Dilati is seeing more cases of young people who feel overwhelmed with the pressure of school exams. Picture: John Veage

With the HSC exams starting in October, Kim Dilati’s office is about to get very busy.

The clinical and forensic psychologist who works with young people, says more high school students are walking through her door in need of help as the exam period approaches.

Ms Dilati, who founded the Youth Psychology Clinic at Hurstville, has worked with adolescents for more than 15 years.

She says the exam period is a particularly difficult time for many teens, who turn to desperate measures such as self-harm.

“The majority of the ones I’m seeing are those who are really distressed,” Ms Dilati said.

They come to me at breaking point where they’re at the far end of the spectrum and have attempted suicide. - Youth psychologist, Kim Dilati

“They come to me at breaking point where they’re at the far end of the spectrum and have attempted suicide. They are often referrals from hospital emergency departments and mental health workers.”

But a lot of the pressure comes from parents, she says.

“Most young people feel there is the stigma of being insane if they go to see a psychologist to talk about personal feelings, so it’s mostly pressure coming from families to seek help,” she said.

“Majority of students I see are first generation Australians with Asian backgrounds from private selective schools, and the parents’ mentality of what’s acceptable academic performance is extremely important.

“But it’s not just a cultural factor, it seems to stem more from parents who are quite high achievers themselves.”

Ms Dilati says peers also influence the way a student copes.

“In year 12 when students realise the end is near, there’s pressure to secure ATAR marks and get into university,” she said.

“They all like to compare results post-exam period, and can get overwhelmed with disappointment from their expectations.”

She says there are manageable strategies to help teens maintain control.

“It’s important to have a whole family approach, to develop a communication plan and understand when students are in the red zone,” Ms Dilati said.

“Parents can help by encouraging a young person to identify triggers like caffeine and energy drink, especially if students already suffer from anxiety, making sure they sleep at least nine hours a day, and taking breaks from studying.”

TIPS FOR MANAGING EXAM STRESS

  • Sleep well. A poor night’s sleep will lead to poor concentration and attention 
  • Avoid food that is high in sugar/fat
  • Exercise
  • Medidate or listen to classical music 
  • Talk to family or friends
  • Try not to compare performance to other students

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