World Mental Health Day: Teens and the pressure to do well in exams


By Ronn Tan

World Mental Health Day: Teens and the pressure to do well in exams

This is not a drill. It’s not a tale we merely hear about in the supermarket or the aunt’s place. It doesn’t just appear in films and television series, either. This is reality—mental health issues are real, valid, and present. It’s unfortunate, but true. Back in May, I wrote a piece on where to get help if you’re a victim of mental health troubles (read here). My goal was to help those suffering in Malaysia; those who don’t know what to do; help us.

It’s World Mental Health Day today. Truthfully, I’m glad that mental well-being is being taken more seriously in the country (and everywhere else) these days. Instead of words, actions are taken and that’s important. After all, it was revealed in the National Health and Morbidity Survey by the Ministry of Health that 4.2 million Malaysians suffer from mental health problems, and that was in 2015. However, among these numbers is a staggering and terrifying fact—the amount of teenagers (13 – 17 years old) suffering from mental health issues is unnecessarily high. According to The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) in 2017 by the Health Ministry’s Institute for Public Health (IPH), one in five suffer from depression, two in five from anxiety, and one in 10 suffer from exam stress. It’s something to think about.

Maybe I was fortunate that my parents didn’t exert too much pressure on me when I was a teenager. In school, I would always do alright, and at times, not as well. But I had friends with so much baggages on them. There was this necessity to ace every exam paper and excel in every extra-curriculum activities. I used ‘necessity’, but was it really? Is the welfare of your children not as important as grades? I’m sure you have read news about the exam-related suicides in Malaysia throughout the past year or so. Luck was definitely on my side when I was younger. My mother always told me that it is completely fine to not do well and I never have to put too much pressure on myself. That advice actually allowed me to breathe even more without compromising on my studies. Honestly, that should be the way.

This is for you—students suffering from mental health issues (pressure and stress to do well in exams). We all want to be great and make our parents proud. However, the good news is that you don’t have to exchange happiness and your well-being for that to happen. Talk to someone if you feel like you are struggling. Send me an email even, if you need to. Remember that it’s not shameful to ask for help. Put away your ego and remove toxic masculinity or femininity. Talk to friends especially if they understand how you feel, to relatives, teachers and family. If you’re looking for professional help and support, by all means, go. Trust me when I say that speaking out does make a difference.

Another way to cope with exam stress is set realistic goals. Try to put everything into perspective. Look at the amount of time you have before your exams and plan accordingly. You should never cramp a lifetime of syllabus, even if your paper is the next day. That will definitely burn you out, so do your best to operate within the realm of what you possess. Your productivity will maximise if you assess and accept your situation. Last minute overworking can lead to immense stress and breakdown. Keep that in mind.

Last but not least, exercise and breathe. According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, it is really essential to encourage exercise during exam periods. No, I don’t mean doing TRX Suspension or high intensity workouts. Opt to go for a run, a swim, a dance, or cycling. Even a brisk walk around the taman would do you good—short exercises will be effective in reducing pressure on yourself. It’s been found that exercise can help boost energy levels, relieve stress, and clear the mind.

The steps above helped me tremendously as a student. Take note that these methods are valid even when you’re an adult because we all face stress and pressure throughout our lives. It is up to ourselves to find the best ways to navigate around them. Don’t let anybody tell you that your concerns are not valid. They are, and needs to be heard. With that said, it’s World Mental Health Day and here’s me wishing everyone the best in your exams as well as a hopeful, brighter future.

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