Thousands of students are calling Childline for support as they struggle to cope with the pressure of exam stress.
According to new figures released by the NSPCC, which runs the line, 2,795 counselling sessions on exam stress were delivered in 2018-19, with a third of the sessions taking place in April and May.
The most common ages for exam stress counselling were 15- and 16-year-olds working towards their GCSEs, and girls were five times more likely to seek help than boys.
Comment: 'Parents feel exam stress, too'
The number of counselling sessions was a slight fall on the previous year, with 3,135 recorded in 2017-18 about exam stress.
Exam stress: mental health fears
Young people who were stressed about their exams spoke of their worries about disappointing their parents, trying their best and still failing, having excessive workloads and feeling unmotivated to revise.
Some young people told Childline that the thought of taking exams was having an adverse effect on their mental health, with some coping by self-harming and others saying they were feeling suicidal.
One student, Sophie, suffered with severe stress during her A levels in 2018, with the result that she was regularly physically sick before an exam day. On one occasion, she was shaking and crying so much her mum had to dress her and support her into school.
She said the issue started during her GCSEs: “All three of my close friends have anxiety, made worse by GCSEs. I didn’t have any problems at all until GCSEs. The pressure just mounts and mounts.”
A teenage boy told Childline: “I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much stress that I find it hard to motivate myself. My friends are studying a lot, which is putting me under more pressure. I’ve tried talking to my mum but it ends up in an argument as she gets angry when I don’t study.”
Childline is urging young people to speak out if they are stressed about their exams.
Anna Williamson, Childline counsellor and writer of the book for teenagers How Not to Lose It, said: “It is vital that family, friends and teachers are there to support children and teenagers during this stressful time.
“My advice to parents would be to never say, ‘It wasn’t like this in my day’ – children won’t care and it isn’t about you. Also never compare siblings. What you can do is ask if they need anything, say you are proud of them and offer an end-of-exams celebration to help them visualise it being over.”
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline said: “I hated exams, and I absolutely understand why they stress so many young people out. They can be important, but they shouldn’t be overwhelming.
“That’s why it’s vital that Childline is there to support any young people who feel the pressure is unbearable."
The NSPCC has recently received over £2 million from the People’s Postcode Lottery, which it said would be used to help Childline support young people.
The government has said that its exam reforms have reduced stress for students.
Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000
Children can contact Childline on 0800 11 11 or www.childline.org.uk any time of the day or night