Students Experiencing 'Worrying' Levels Of Stress

Walking into senior school, Liam Maher had a pretty clear expectation of where he saw himself at the end of Year 12. 

Now three weeks away from sitting his HSC exams, he isn't so sure.

"Unlike a lot of people, I have an idea of what I want to do, but I do feel like I'll be left out or isolated from doing that if I don't achieve a particular result," said the 17-year-old, from Gilroy Catholic College in Sydney's west.

"The closer it gets, the more it seems like you won't get there ... I'm really nervous and anxious."

Liam Maher is stressed and anxious about looming exams. Image: Ten Eyewitness News

Fellow Gilroy student Sina Aghamofid said he's worried about not knowing where he's heading.

"I think that's what gives me the stress and anxiety that comes with exams -- the uncertainty of what's going to happen, what comes next," he said.

Maher and Aghamofid aren't alone, with a new survey from frontline youth service ReachOut Australia finding about two thirds of surveyed students are now experiencing "worrying" levels of exam stress, up from 51.2 percent in 2017.

"This is the highest it has been since we've started researching it," ReachOut CEO Ashley de Silva told Ten Eyewitness News.

And while the prevalence of stress among senior students isn't in itself a surprise, De Silva said there has been a shift.

"Traditionally we would expect to see schools and parents among the top drivers, but they have dropped this year, and instead we have concerns about the future, and getting a job," he said.

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The research found about 42.8 percent of students had general concerns about the future  -- up from 37.1 percent last year -- while 38.2 percent were worried about whether their results would land them a job.

"We hear all these things about 50 percent of jobs that don't exist now existing in the future. That makes you think, is the degree that I'm doing to do going to get me a job in that new, updated workforce? Or is it nothing?" Aghamofid said.

Both him and Maher acknowledged a lot of pressure was self-inflicted, which continues to be the biggest driver of exam-related stress.

"I think we're always told to set goals, to make sure we know what we want," Maher said. "But I don't think we're told what to do once when we don't reach them."

Not all stress is bad. At its best, it can help young people focus and get through. But when it starts to become unproductive -- when young people have difficult sleeping or find it hard to concentrate -- it can lead to things like anxiety and depression," de Silva said.

But it isn't all bad news, with Maher being among a rising number of students who are seeking help from mental health professionals or GPs that has doubled from 15.5 percent to 30.5 percent in 2018. 
How to manage stress around exams

With Year 12 exams quickly approaching, de Silva urged students to talk about the signs and symptoms of stress, and to take the available steps to receive help.

"Our number one priority is that young people know they're not alone in feeling pressure on exams," he said.

Sina Aghamofid will reach out to his mates. Image: Ten Eyewitness News

He recommended staying connected through study schedules and library visits.

"It's tempting to only focus on the books. But don't drop out of the things that nourish you -- friends, families, hobbies," he said.

"Make sure that you're sleeping and taking study breaks."

While it's not uncommon for students to feel the pressure of their parent's expectations, de Silver urged mums and dads to acknowledge "effort" rather than focusing purely on results.

Contact the author: ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au