Thousands of children turning to NSPCC to cope with exam stress

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By Hannah Spratt

Thousands of young people are turning to Childline for help as they struggle to cope with the pressure of exam stress.


New figures from the NSPCC-run service reveal that it delivered 3,135 counselling sessions to children across the UK on exam stress in 2016/17 – a rise of 11% on the previous year.


Ninety-three of these sessions were with young people contacting the service from Northern Ireland – up from 78 in 2015-16.


Of the UK-wide contacts, more than a fifth took place in May as pupils faced upcoming exams. Many told counsellors they were struggling with subjects, excessive workloads and feeling unprepared.


Children aged 12-15 were most likely to be counselled about exam stress but this year saw the biggest rise - up 21% across the UK on 2015/16 - amongst 16-18 year olds, many of whom will have been preparing for A-levels to determine university places.


Worryingly young people are consistently telling counsellors exam stress can contribute to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, excessive crying, low self-esteem, self-harming and suicidal thoughts, or even make pre-existing mental health conditions worse.


One teenage boy who contacted Childline said: “I'm really feeling the pressure of A-levels, I've been having panic attacks and difficulty breathing. I'm so afraid of not getting the right grades and I'm stressed about the future. My life could turn out so differently depending on what I get.”


Another teenage boy said: “I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them. My parents don't allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument.”


Neil Anderson, Head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, said: “Every year we hear from thousands of children who are struggling to cope with the pressure to succeed in exams. For some this can feel so insurmountable that it causes crippling anxiety and stress and in some cases contributes to mental health issues or even suicidal thoughts and feelings.


“Exams are important but worrying and panicking about them can be counterproductive, leaving young people unable to revise and prepare. It is vital that young people are supported by family, friends and teachers during the exam period to help them do the best they can. Childline is also here 24/7 for any young person needing confidential support and advice.”


Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder and President of Childline said: “I am very distressed that so many young people are turning to Childline because they have nobody else to confide in safely when they are desperately anxious.


“We need to recognise how stressful exams can be, and reassure our young people and support them through these tough times which I remember only too well in my life, and my children’s lives.”


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