Anxiety and other mental health issues are increasingly taking a toll on Australian students completing their Year 12 exams this year, experts say.
Figures from South Australia and New South Wales show an increase in students needing rest breaks, extra time and other provisions to ensure they make the grade.
Adelaide-based child psychologist Kirrilie Smout said each week her practice sees up to 10 Year 12 students who are trying to manage anxiety and depression.
“They’re sitting there looking at assignments and revision and thinking, ‘Am I going to be able to do this? Can I get this finished? Am I going to be able to pass? Am I going to get the marks that I need?'” she said.
Many are battling with their final year of high school, and Dr Smout said the stressors these days are far greater than they once were.
“Now we’re also looking at a changed job market, potentially some of the careers that young people want to get into are much higher,” she said.
“There’s financial stresses on young people, they’re thinking about can they afford to pay bills for phones, can they afford to go and buy a house.
“There’s also stresses related to technology and how they use technology, there’s stresses related to dealing with mental health issues, which we know are higher than they were a few decades ago.”
Vulnerable students aided by special provisions
New figures from the South Australian Certificate of Education, or SACE Board, show just over 1,150 Year 12 students applied for special provisions in 2015, with almost a third dealing with a psychological illness like anxiety and depression.
Professor Jennie Hudson, the director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, said New South Wales students are also under pressure.
“We’ve also in NSW experienced a significant increase in the number of children requesting special provisions, and also the number that have been approved as well,” she said.
“That’s had a massive increase, I think around 62 per cent since 2011.”
Those provisions mean students can take rest breaks, sit the exam in a separate room or be given extra time.
Professor Hudson said while some do need them, there are better alternatives to the broad use of special provisions.
“If a child throughout their schooling life requests these special provisions during exams and they never actually seek treatment then that can perhaps help to maintain their problem with anxiety,” she said.