High school students are now so stressed that they are visiting doctors in the hope of being able to escape the pressure of a group exam, major test, or even just everyday lessons.

Experts say an epidemic of anxiety in our schools is emerging from a storm of factors including the never-ending exposure to social media, personal issues, and pressure on students to perform.

Sydney university graduate Amy Hargrave remembers that pressure, and how it felt.The 24-year-old has been diagnosed with clinical anxiety since she was in Year 10.”I would often go into my shell a little bit and wouldn’t be able to have great conversations with my friends or join in on social activities because the thoughts going through my head were so loud, and so negative,” Ms Hargrave said.

By the numbers

  • A report by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute estimates 1 in 4 young people are at risk of a mental health issue
  • 1.6 million high school students will return/begin studies in coming weeks
  • That means up to 400,000 young people may need extra support
  • Students, teachers and principals say they are feeling the pressure as anxiety increases in classrooms

Too anxious to test?

Queensland GP Rob Park knows how anxiety can threaten the schooling of a young adult — he has also worked closely with teenagers through mental health group Headspace.

Some of these students are given medical support to avoid classroom situations that might exacerbate their disorder.

“They get so uptight they can’t even hand in these pieces of work. They could be losing sleep, missing class. It can be really quite severe,” Dr Park said.

“Some of my patients can’t even be in the same room as other people taking exams because they’re so anxious and so uptight.

“They’re actually getting separate rooms to do their exams. Sometimes at different times. Anything we can do to alleviate that anxiety so they can perform at the same level as those who don’t have anxiety.”

He said that if anxious people are not given space and time when they need it they won’t become tougher, they’ll quit.

“We have to be really circumspect about that,” Dr Park said.

“Giving people a medical certificate and giving them some some extra time can sometimes be appropriate.”

Why don’t they just toughen up?

Clinical psychologist Shona Innes said anxiety can be debilitating, and when a person doesn’t seek help, they’ll do whatever they can to cope.

“Because they don’t like that feeling, they’ll avoid more and more things,” Dr Innes said..

“They’ll avoid that class, then over time they’ll avoid going on that day, then they’ll avoid going to school.”

– Owen Jacques, ABC Sunshine Coast

Read more: Too Stressed to Test: Anxious Students Using Doctor Notes as Exams Become too Much

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