A recent report by the NSPCC has revealed that the number of young people in Britain seeking counselling specifically over exam stress has increased by 200% in recent years, a truly staggering amount.
These figures have come primarily from the NSPCC’s ChildLine service, a wonderful helpline where children can all express their concerns about whatever issues may be troubling them, find reassurance and be guided towards getting help. In 2013-14, they received 34,000 calls from young people with issues pertaining to school-related problems, whether it be bullying, exam stress, problems with teachers and other academic issues. From these approaches, more than half of the ensuing counselling sessions were focused on dealing with exam stress.
So too, on ChildLine’s website, there were over 87,500 visits in regards to the issue of exam stress.
The exam period for many young people is beginning right now, as hundreds of thousands of young people prepare to take GCSE exams and A-Levels. So what is causing this vast increase in young people feeling so overwhelmed they need to seek help?
Exam stress and anxiety
While it has always been ever present, it would seem that children are under more and more pressure with each passing year to achieve high grades. This pressure can come from differing avenues and cause great anxiety in children. Traditionally it is parents who pressure their children, and an ability to properly communicate with each other can often compound the stress that a child feels before and during exam periods. In addition to pressure at home, there is sometimes greater pressure coming from teachers at schools.
It is no secret that as a profession, teachers are feeling under more and more pressures due to changes made to curriculums, and how they are assessed by the Government. This translates into pressuring their pupils, whose results are often the barometer of the value of a teacher. Even if they are not directly pressuring their pupils, the stress that teachers are under can often rub off on their pupils, creating a bad atmosphere. The schools themselves which introduce rigorous testing policies can cause mass anxiety, as children are indoctrinated into a culture where exam success is the be all and end all
Education itself has suddenly become a lot more high stakes. With tuition fees now standing at £9,000 a year (with this cap likely to be increased), so much pressure is put on children and their futures, so it is no wonder they need help to deal with all these problems, which come at a time in their lives when they themselves are going through dramatic changes, and experiencing emotions which they find difficult to understand.
One positive reason in the increase of children seeking help, could be that there has been much advancements made in making young people aware of the help they can get, and also of advantages of getting help. So too, children feel safe and comfortable calling such helplines, which is a culture we should be actively encouraging.
How counselling can help
Counselling for young people can help them understand better what they are going through, and work out ways in which they can overcome their problems. It is often a case of communicating to them firstly that it is okay to have the feelings they are having, but then that these feelings can be eased through talking. Furthermore, counselling often acts as a mediatory solution to the breakdown of a relationship between child and parent, and get the two parties connecting with each other again, improving the wellbeing of all those involved. It has been proven that counselling at a young age, can help prevent problems which may fester and re-emerge later in life, and have far more devastating effects than if they are addressed at a young age. Therefore while it is a major cause for concern that on top of everything else younger generations have to deal with, they are now clearly being affected even more by exam stress and other academic agitating factors, it is encouraging that more young people, and therefore one would imagine their families, are open to counselling. Spreading the message of the therapeutic catharsis that counselling and therapy can bring is vital for helping people who are going through a tough time, and form what we learn, can help to influence the long term solution to tackling the root of the problem.