Home Family & Relationship 11 Signs Your Child May Be Struggling with Exam Stress, According to a Family Psychotherapist

11 Signs Your Child May Be Struggling with Exam Stress, According to a Family Psychotherapist

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Parents might assume that a strong academic performance is a simple and easy measure of a teenager’s mental health and well-being. 

But in reality, academic performance is not a good indicator of psychological wellness, and some young people continue to receive high grades despite mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

With GCSE and A-Level exams underway, family and adolescent psychotherapist Fiona Yassin is urging parents not to assume that their ‘grade A’ teen is coping well with the pressure of exam season. 

Yassin, founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, says: “High achievement in academics can also be linked to perfectionism, which is a risk factor for mental health conditions. In some cases, perfectionism in academics can be a clue that a young person is facing other emotional or psychological challenges.

“Young people of all backgrounds, gender identities, and personalities can develop mental health issues regardless of their school grades. It’s important not to make assumptions about a young person’s mental health based on their academic performance.”

Signs that a young person may need support during exam season

Some young people develop ways to cope with psychological distress so that they can continue to do well in their studies, according to Yassin. It’s also common for academic stress to contribute to, cause, or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

Yassin says: “Parents are often among the first people to notice when a young person acts differently from usual and may sense that something is wrong. But sometimes it can be hard to understand exactly what a young person is feeling, and problems can be overlooked.

“Parents should be aware of emotional and behavioural changes that might show a young person is facing challenges with their mental health or finding the exam season overwhelming.”

Signs and symptoms parents should look out for in their young person include:

  1. Changes in sleeping patterns, such as finding it hard to sleep at night or wake up the next day
  2. Changes in eating habits or appetite
  3. Social withdrawal or spending less time with friends than usual
  4. Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
  5. Trying to avoid or miss school
  6. Increased irritability
  7. Experiencing extreme highs and lows
  8. Persistent tiredness or fatigue
  9. Anxiety, excessive worry, or episodes of panic
  10. Aggressive or confrontational behaviour towards others
  11. Engaging in risky or impulsive behaviours.

This list is not exhaustive; young people can express mental health concerns in different ways and they may also try to hide symptoms from others around them. 

How can parents support teens with exam stress?

If parents sense that something isn’t right with their child, Yassin says it’s important they act and offer support.

Yassin says, “Support might involve having an open conversation with your child about what they are experiencing. You should stay open-minded, actively listen, validate their feelings, and be non-judgmental.

“If these signs and symptoms persist or you think your child has a mental health disorder, you should seek professional support. You might want to discuss this with your child and support them to access treatment or speak with a mental health expert directly for advice.”

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