The pressure to achieve in exams has left thousands of teens struggling with mental health

(Picture: Alain Le Bot/Getty Images)

We’ve all heard the ranting of stressed and exhausted teenagers enduring exams and seen multiple tweets expressing anger towards exam boards.

We know that rates of mental illnesses and suicides in young people are increasing – but have we made the link?

I believe there’s a strong case to be made that the current education system exacerbates existing mental health issues and an unhealthy level of stress, as well as inducing poor self-care among students.

That’s why I have started a petition to adapt the education system to lower student exam anxiety whilst saving NHS funds.

As a 17-year old who is recovering from anorexia, I speak from my own experience.

I’m have been in recovery for the past three years. Developing anorexia meant that is was not plain sailing before my exams; however, I was able to plod along at what was considered a healthy weight and slowly restore my life alongside my health.

Then, at the beginning of year 11, my perfectionist self kicked in.

I’d got poor grades in my mock exams having missed five months of school for inpatient treatment. I could justify the results to myself: I had missed the lessons and my brain was functioning poorly because it was so severely malnourished.

But year 11 was my chance.

I’d restored my weight, my mental health was improving and it seemed like an incredibly important time to do well and get the grades needed to fulfill my need to achieve.

But this driving force became cunningly disguised as a belief that I had to get the best grades possible in order to keep every door open – even though I knew full-well that I had no desire to become a physicist or a chemist.

I started studying before school, through break times and lunch, followed by more revision at home, and it felt great.

I saw my grades work their way up, I was achieving things, I felt productive, I was returning to the academic I was before anorexia – but I was massively neglecting my mental health.

I started having concerns about anorexia but I deemed them insignificant.

Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques I’d been taught, I tried to brush them off and rationalise them but that only meant I failed to react to them properly. As a result, my disordered thoughts became hardened beliefs and were soon dictating my life once again.

Thousands of teens nationwide are deteriorating annually under a current education system that says that exam results are the be all and end all.

With two weeks to go before my first exam, I was threatened with a second inpatient admission if I failed to gain or at least maintain my weight.

Somehow, and I honestly don’t know how, I managed to stabilise my weight and slowly began restoring my body to wellness. My mind, on the other hand was an entirely different story, with disordered thoughts racing around as I sat through the 20-something exams for my GCSEs.

I’m glad I’m able to say that things have got better.

My physical health is no longer at a critical point and my mental health is much improved but I am yet to return to the mental and physical state I’d achieved prior to my exams, and I believe this series of events highlights the degree to which the current education system needs changing.

I believe that to stop the rise of mental illnesses in young people, the system needs to be adapted to view students as a whole, so that all skills, traits and parts of a person are considered – not just academic achievement.

This will offer an enhanced understanding of who we are as people – as a colleague, a student or a boss – and in turn, jobs will be correctly allocated and people will feel as though they’re in the right place.

Sadly, as a result of the past and current system, I know several people like me who are facing daily battles with the demons in their heads, as well as countless people suffering with other mental illnesses.

Thousands of teens nationwide are deteriorating annually under a current education system that says exam results are the be all and end all.

More: Mental health

Hopefully, lowering the number of young people requiring mental health treatment will take pressure off economically-stretched Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Perhaps savings might even be made, which could then be used elsewhere in education.

I’ve created my petition with the aim of getting the matter up for debate in Parliament, and that will require MPs to re-think the system and change it for the better.

We need to reach 100,000 signatures by 17th October 2018 in order to earn a debate in Parliament, so I ask that you sign it, and share the petition with everyone you know.

To sign the petition, go to petition.parliament.uk.

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